Lee Duffield

Edited by Lee Duffield
Freedom and Truth

Buddha reflects on near Kokoda crash

Chris "Buddha" Handy made hte pilgrimage in 2002

Chris "Buddha" Handy made the pilgrimage in 2002

The experience of a lifetime turned into a tragedy after a plane en route to Kokoda in PNG crashed into a mountainside killing 13 people, including two Sunshine Coast residents.

Dr June Canavan and friend Keith Gracie boarded their Airlines of Papua New Guinea flight eager to fulfil a rite of passage that thousands before them had travelled.

Little did they know they would never confront the physically-draining and life-changing journey of the Kokoda Track.

Chris “Buddha” Handy made the popular Australian pilgrimage in 2002 and is aware of dangers tourists face simply getting to Kokoda.

He was on the same Twin Otter turboprop plane that left at the same time and place five years ago.

“We didn’t realise until we got overhead just how dense and how remote this place was,” Buddha said.

“You can conceive what it’s about but. Until you get there you just don’t realise.”

In similar circumstances, Buddha’s flight was also diverted due to the treacherous conditions.

Feeling “bullet proof”, he said the trekking group failed to comprehend the enormity of the situation and the dangers that flying there possessed.

Buddha returned to PNG in 2004 and witnessed the recovery of twelve B-24 airmen who had crashed into the side of a mountain during World War II.

“[There was] wreckage scattered over almost an acre, a hectare of land and they were then trying to get that out,” he said.

“It was just devastating; it was quite incredible that it had been unfound for 60 years.”

Although such incidents are a common occurrence in PNG, Buddha is confident the most recent crash will not deter young Australians from travelling to Kokoda.

“It’s a strong bond that brings young Australians back to visit their heritage and that always should be remembered,” he said.