IT WAS freezing cold and I struggled for warmth under my thin blue jacket, swinging the long tail of the neck warmer one more time around my neck as I stepped under the rusty corrugated roof of the run down police station at Bewani deep inside West Sepik Province.
The wind howled through the tree tops and torrents of rain pelted down pitilessly on the waterlogged grass airstrip.
A rumble of thunder rolled through the thick clouds and the accompanying lightning illuminated the distant sky giving me a short glimpse of distant silhouetted hills crouching like a wounded animal.
The hills were the backdrop to a vast flat area of jungle-covered land that stretched from Bewani to Skotiau across Bewan River and into the thick forests of Irian Jaya.
Somewhere in there two Indonesian lumber workers were held hostages by armed men suspected to be a faction of the West Papuan freedom movement, Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).
The overcast had closed in swallowing up the last of the light and painting the surroundings a misty grey. As I stared towards the open sky in the west, a faint red light flickered in the foggy downpour and the shape of PNG Defence Force Bell 212 chopper descended slowly from the overcast as it circled to land.
The powerful wind screamed against the roaring blades and the rain continued its assault as the pilots skilfully perched the craft lightly on the water-bound strip.
From the shadows of an open building, five fully-armed soldiers with drenched gear moved towards the chopper, their boots sinking into the soggy mud.
They clambered on board and the chopper clawed its way up, cutting through the fog and disappearing west heading towards the border.
Its flickering red navigation light disappeared into the downpour as the last sortie was inserted into the jungles of Skotiau along the Bewan River late that September afternoon.
Its mission: to track down the armed rebels and rescue the two Indonesian lumber workers. Negotiation for their release had failed two days before.
The downpour continued into the night casting a heavy fog over the jungle but this did not impede the Special Operation Task Force’s (SOTF) pursuit of the rebel’s stronghold in the Skotiau area.
The operation, directed by Ian Jinga, Director General of the Office of Security Assessment and Coordination, came after prime minister O’Neill, on very short notice, ordered the PNGDF to deploy a special task force for the rescue mission.
The SOTF was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Opa, commanding officer of the 2nd Regiment, PIR, based in Wewak and resulted in the rescue of the two hostages, Sudirman, 18, and Badar, 30, who broke down in tears as they were handed over to Indonesian consul at the PNGDF operations base
Two of the suspected kidnappers were taken into custody during the operation and handed over to police.
It was after five o’clock the next day as the last rays of the setting sun sparkled off the white beaches of the Wutung coastline that we hit the road to the border at Batas to hand over the hostages to the Indonesian army and their families.