It can be disconcerting flying over the highlands of Papua New Guinea, crammed into a small propeller plane. The buzz and bounce over the lush valleys, threaded with glistening ribbons of water, or the sheer cliffs that rise, almost to the height of the plane, their stony faces stern, is an exhilarating experience. Looking up at the towering pillars of cloud you’re flying through and around is humbling.
It makes you respectful of the professional staff of Adventist Aviation Services (AAS), who make these flights every day, descending into funnel-shaped valleys, landing on muddy, bumpy, grass airstrips and bringing food, supplies and the Gospel to some of the world’s most rugged and remote villages. It can be dangerous work, yet it’s very rewarding—the smiles of those receiving a delivery show how important it is.
It is a long, hard, slow, painful journey, but it is God, family and everyone praying for me that is making the difference.
This really is the land of the unexpected. But tragically on January 22, the unthinkable happened.
Linden Millist, 33, AAS engineer and eldest son of CEO, Roger, was carrying out routine maintenance on the newest plane when it burst into flames. Rushed from the hangar at Goroka to Brisbane hospital with burns to 50 per cent of his body, Linden fought for his life. Today, Linden is staying in Brisbane, still undergoing daily physio and occupational therapies and, in many ways, he’s lucky to be alive.
“I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to be alive and to have pulled through OK thus far,” he said. “It was 14 hours before I got to the Brisbane hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. I should have died within those 14 hours. Even in ICU, with 50 per cent burns the chance of survival is well less than 50 per cent.”
There is still work to be done. “It is a long, hard, slow, painful journey, but it is God, family and everyone praying for me that is making the difference.” Linden said his faith remains, and even though he has not yet been able to return to church, he is looking forward to when he can.
Supported by his family, particularly his fiancée, Bri Norton, who moved from Perth to aid in his recovery, and his mother, Carol, Linden had multiple skin graft operations—any patch of skin that wasn’t burnt was peeled and stretched to cover what he’d lost. The accident not only affected Linden but also his family and those who have been caring for him.
“Bri has been awesome throughout all this and is doing a wonderful job looking after me,” he said. “By the end of the day we are both very tired.”
Donations and prayers flowed in from across the world to aid in the recovery effort. Linden said this had been very encouraging and was making a difference.
In early June, he flew to America to attend Bri’s sister’s wedding, a huge milestone in his recovery. However, it may be two years until he’s able to work again.
“My biggest issue is HO calcification in my two elbows and two knees. I have to wait for a year before the calcification stops and then [have] an operation on each joint to fix the limited range and pain,” he explained. “[My] skin is all coming along fine; I am in pressure garments to keep pressure on the skin to stop scarring.”
While Linden has been recovering, AAS has been helped and supported too. The damaged aircraft was shipped back to New Zealand for repairs and is not expected back until the end of the year. AAS purchased a new aircraft, which went into service on June 10. The Pacific Aerospace factory in New Zealand supplied AAS with an engineer to assist with scheduled maintenance on the other aircraft and the chief engineer from Mission Aviation Fellowship has assisted with licence coverage so everything remained legal with the Civil Aviation Authority of PNG. Nathan Leins from Australia will join the team as the maintenance manager until a replacement can be found, at which time, he will start as a pilot. Nathan spent 12 years in the RAAF as an engineer before completing his commercial pilot’s licence.
Also, recently retired pastors Colin Dunn (a former AAS chief engineer/pilot) and Warren Price (a former AAS pilot) are assisting AAS by caring for the quality and safety management area, while Jonathan Butcher and his family, from Cooranbong, NSW, spent two weeks painting and doing required maintenance on staff houses.
“Though it has been a very difficult year for AAS and myself personally, we have been blessed in so many ways and seen answers to prayers, which I had almost given up hope on,” Roger said. “I would like to thank the thousands of people around the world who have prayed for, and continue to pray for, Linden’s healing and have supported all of us in tangible and practical ways. Those prayers have been answered, and continue to be answered—God is good!”
“Thank-you to everyone all over the world who have followed my journey and been a part of supporting myself and Bri thru thought, prayer, gifts and financial support. Every little [bit of] support has been appreciated and it has all made a difference to the positive direction of my recovery thus far. This is what Church is all about!” said Linden via email. “God’s people supporting those in need and upholding each other in prayer. It is powerful and strengthens the winning side in the fight between Good and Evil!”
“God is alive,” Linden adds. “He hears and answers every prayer.”
*Linden and Bri plan to get married by registry in July. They hope to have a proper celebration in 2014 in the US. The original plan was August this year but Linden says he would like to be out of his pressure garments and having hls arms and legs working properly.
The family have set up a GoFundMe account to receive donations in lieu of gifts and flowers. The money will go towards medical bills and rehab, lost wages for Linden’s carers, car hire, food, accommodation and other costs over the next few months.
Prayers and messages of support have flooded in from around the world on the RECORD website, as well as on the Facebook page, “Prayer for Linden Millist & Bri Norton – His fiancé & family”.
Jarrod Stackelroth is associate editor of RECORD.