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Pilot raising money for Papua New Guinea humanitarian flights

‘If we don’t fly, people die,’ Mark Palm says

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SMITHFIELD — Mark Palm said his mission in life was forged when he was just a teenager and he is now fulfilling that mission to the hilt.

Palm said his parents were pastors who managed a homeless mission in Santa Cruz, California, and he had the opportunity to help them every weekend when they were feeding the hungry.

Palm said the experience made him come to realize just how blessed most Americans were.

Amid this background, along with a trip he took to Mexico during his high school years, Palm said his life was changed forever as he saw the struggles much of the world faces on a daily basis.

“There was a moment when I felt God impressed upon me that I was supposed to live my life to share God’s love,” said Palm.

At age 19, he visited Papua New Guinea with a friend and saw the people’s medical and spiritual needs firsthand.

Papua New Guinea, situated in the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia, is the world’s third-largest island country and one of the most culturally diverse places on earth.

It’s also among the most rural, with only 18% of its population in urban centers. Most of its 8 million people depend on agriculture for a living.

It’s also among the world’s least explored nations. There are 851 known languages in the country.

After returning to the United States, Palm enrolled at Hobe Sound Bible College in Florida followed by Miramar College in San Diego, where he earned a degree in aviation technology.

During this time, he also met and married his wife, Kirsten. The couple now has three children.

Palm holds a commercial pilot’s license with instrument and seaplane ratings.

Nineteen years ago, pilot Mark Palm felt called to put his skills to use saving lives. He co-founded Samaritan Aviation in 2000.

It took 10 years for him to raise the money to buy the first floatplane that he would transform into a flying ambulance and transport it to Papua New Guinea, marking the beginning of Samaritan Aviation’s work along the East Sepik River in the East Sepik Province.

Flight operations began in 2010. Palm has since flown more than 1,000 lifesaving missions in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea and more than 165,000 pounds of medical supplies have been flown to 40 aid posts along the Sepik River.

According to Palm, daily life in villages along the Sepik River is a huge challenge.

He said some 220,000 people live along the 700-mile long river surrounded by a dense jungle with almost no roads or electricity and very little access to emergency medical care.

Palm said infant mortality rates in the area are often as high as 40% and many who live along the river suffer from malaria.

Other diseases are also critical health concerns including AIDS, cholera, tuberculosis and polio.

Palm said the western province of Papua New Guinea faces even worse challenges and this is the area Samaritan Aviation plans to serve next.

“Most of the engagements we deal with are either life or death situations,” said Palm. “Basically, if we don’t fly, people die.”

In 2020, Samaritan Aviation will celebrate 20 years as an organization and 10 years of flight operations in Papua New Guinea.

Others have joined the team and Palm is no longer the only pilot and mechanic rescuing villagers who live in remote, primitive conditions along the river.

Samaritan Aviation now has two planes in operation, four other pilots who are also mechanics and a medical director. But there is still more work to be done, according to Palm, which has led to a large fundraising effort.

Palm is now back in the United States touring with the plane to raise funds for the charity and overhauling it for active duty in Papua New Guinea starting in 2020.

The visit included an Aug. 28 stop at Smithfield’s Johnston Regional Airport, where he met with donors and presented his program informing guests about Samaritan Aviation.

The overall cost to purchase and rebuild the new floatplane is $600,000. Once work is finished, the plane will be shipped to Papua New Guinea, becoming the third active plane on the islands.

“This is an exciting time for the Samaritan Aviation team,” said Palm. “Hope for healing, hope for a better future and it is all based as the name implies, on the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus used to instruct us on how to treat each other.”

For more information on the ministry, along with donation and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.samaritanaviation.org.

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