Jayanty Nada Shofa, Jakarta – Three weeks have passed since Papua separatists held a Susi Air pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens hostage, and the airline has shut down rumors that the New Zealander in captivity joining the rebel group.
"The rumors of [Mehrtens] with the Free Papua Movement [OPM] are not true," Susi Air founder Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters at her residence in Jakarta on Wednesday.
According to Susi, Mehrtens is a family man. The former maritime affairs minister added: "I personally know his wife's family, and Phillip Mehrtens has been working with me for almost 10 years."
Mehrtens began working for Susi Air in 2012, but then resigned in 2015. The New Zealand national then returned to Susi Air two years ago. Susi even called Mehrtens "one of Susi Air's best pilots".
"It has been 22 days since the plane arson and kidnapping. ... We are praying and hoping that our pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens can be unconditionally released," Susi said.
"This is my personal opinion, not as a founder of Susi Air. It is unwise to fight for one's independence by taking other people's independence," she said.
Susi Air attorney Donal Fariz said that neither he nor the airline has any information on how the Papua separatists treated Mehrtens.
"We only know from the photos, but those images have been altered by certain people so [Mehrtens] does not look like he is in distress, and appears as if he knows those people," Donal told reporters, referring to the pictures that the Papuan rebels had released.
A toll on logistics
According to Susi, the kidnapping led to the cancellation of flights and could eventually affect logistics in Indonesia's easternmost province. The kidnapping and the plane arson have put almost 40 percent of Susi Air's flight operations in Papua to a halt.
"Seventy percent of the Pilatus Porter flights have stopped. Our Porter planes usually serve 30-40 flights, so that would mean more than 25 flights have come to a halt. This will surely take a toll on the logistics supply for those living in the highland areas," Susi said.
The Pilatus Porter, which Mehrtens was flying, has a carrying capacity of 900 kilograms and can accommodate up to eight passengers on board. Its small body makes it easy to maneuver in remote highland areas.
On Feb. 7, Papua separatists burned a Susi Air PK-BVY Pilatus Porter plane on Paro Airport's runway in Nduga regency. The aircraft had Mehrtens and five Papuan passengers on board. The separatist group took them hostage. However, the passengers had already returned to their homes. About a week after the kidnapping, the Egianus Kogoya-led group released a video of Mehrtens surrounded by the rebels.
On that video, Mehrtens said, "the Papuan Military has taken me captive in their efforts to fight for Papuan independence. They ask for the Indonesian Military to go home, back to Indonesia. If not, I will remain captive for my life."