The Papua New Guinea man who died in a southeast Queensland hospital from COVID-19 complications this week was a former governor and respected businessman.
Malcolm “Mal” Kela Smith was a two-time governor of the Eastern Highlands and a pioneer of PNG’s aviation industry. The 77-year-old passed away in the intensive care unit at the Redcliffe Hospital on Monday after he had been evacuated from PNG on March 28.
Among Mr Smith’s ventures was Pacific Helicopters, which helped transport people living in regional areas to medical appointments.
According to local media, all businesses owned by Mr Smith, including Pacific Helicopters, were closed on Monday following news of his passing.
The former governor was a dual PNG/UK citizen. He was born in London and immigrated to Australia as a child, where he completed his education before going on to serve with distinction in the Australian Defence Forces.
In 1969, he was posted to PNG and has lived there since. PNG officials are understood to be in the process of repatriating his body back to the country.
Robert Agarobe, the Governor for PNG’s Central Province, wrote Mr Smith had been a “dear friend.”
“My aviation life with Malcolm Kela Smith was a love and hate relationship and competitors and we had our moments, however, we were best of friends who shared more than a few beers together and assisted each other in times of need when it came to work,” Mr Agarobe said.
“We both had the out most (sic) respect for each other as brothers and aviators. A though bugger, a true aviator and a legend.
“Rest easy my friends till we meet again … Have a beer on my behalf, I’ll be doing the same.”
Queensland Health said the death won’t be included in the state’s COVID-19 death toll, which has stood at six since April last year, because the case was not detected in Queensland.
Papua New Guinea’s health system is being decimated by the pandemic, with a number of patients being transferred to Queensland.
A total of 7406 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in PNG since the onset of the pandemic, and 67 deaths have been recorded.