Adam Milburn doesn’t think he should be called a hero. But his actionsduring the evacuation of a crashed plane last month in Micronesia have earned the Australian high praise.
Mr Milburn was one of 47 passengers and crew on board a sinking Air Niugini plane after the Boeing 737 undershot the runway at Chuuk Lagoon by 145 metres.
An Indonesian man died in the incident, but the casualty count could have been higher had it not been for the actions of Milburn.
A former Australian Navy clearance diver living in Micronesia, the Aussie reputedly played an integral role in directing passengers to safety, the ABC reported.
“I was like everyone, kind of floundering. 'How did we get here? What's happening? What are we doing right now in a plane that's floating on the water?'" he told 7.30 of his intitial response to the crash.
The situation wasn’t made easier by the actions of flight attendants, who Milburn claims had been panicked during the ordeal.
"They were shouting, and I think I would have been in their situation as well. There was panic in their voices, you could hear the panic," he said.
Cabin crew initially told passengers to remain seated, but after no more orders were forthcoming, Milburn grabbed his lifejacket, helped others and headed to the exit.
"I remember I stepped out onto the wing and there was a gentleman there [another passenger] on his own, from memory, and he had the life raft but it hadn't been deployed," he said.
"He said, 'Can you find the inflation cord? I can't find the inflation cord.' So we were able to find the flap and inflate the life raft."
Milburn said the pair then evacuated most of the 35 passengers without crew assistance.
"The last two passengers that I remember were quite incapacitated, so then there was a challenge about trying to keep their head out of the water because by that stage there was probably water up to knees or waist," he said.
Bill Jaynes, a US journalist and editor of local paper the Kaselehlie Press who was on the plane, praised the Australian for his part.
"I know Adam and I know he would be the last person to call himself anything like a hero, [but] considering there was a plane in the water I would call it heroic," Jaynes said.
"Meanwhile flight attendants, in my section at any rate, were panicking and running up and down the aisles … and screaming for us to all calm down, which of course had the opposite effect.
"[Adam] was very calm throughout the whole situation. I can't recall if he actually took my hand as I stepped out of the plane or not. I just remember his demeanour.”
A preliminary report into the cause of the crash, the first fatal accident in the 45-year history of Air Niugini, is expected by the end of the month.
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