LIHU‘E — Peter O’Neill, prime minister of Papua New Guinea, spent the night on Kaua‘i, Sunday.
O’Neill and his delegation were en route home from the United Nations General Assembly. They spent the night on island because his plane needed refueling and his flight crew, headed by Capt. Christopher Smith, needed refreshing.
Smith is a 1981 graduate of Island School. The oldest of seven children from Norbert and Rosemary Smith of Wailua, he went on to graduate from Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
Now he is a part-time pilot for the O’Neill delegation, his mother said Sunday outside the prime minister’s plane parked at the Lihu‘e Airport.
She said her son is one of the pilots certified to fly the Dassault Falcon 900 EX plane.
“Christopher always wanted to be a pilot,” Rosemary Smith said.
“From the time he was 7 years old, he announced his intentions and he washed planes in exchange for flight lessons,” she said.
Colleen Leonard, the youngest of the Smith children, said her brother got his first license when he was 16 years old.
From then, it was a steady progression to where he has landed today.
“He lives in Colorado with his wife, who is a captain with Frontier Airlines, and their three daughters,” Rosemary Smith said.
“But he commutes to New Guinea as the pilot for the prime minister four months of the year.”
Dessie Benson, one of the three members working on the flight crew for the prime minister’s trip, said the Dassault Falcon plane is owned by the New Guinea government, but maintained by a local Papua New Guinea airline.
Joining Christopher on the flight crew are Kris Randall, a former pilot for United Airlines, and Vincent Kipma of New Guinea. All were involved in making sure the stopover procedures were being tended to Sunday.
Joi Bonaparte, the Kaua‘i district manager for Air Service Hawai‘i, said they get corporate jets frequently, but it’s not every day they have the privilege of servicing foreign government dignitaries.
The last time they worked with a foreign government was when a Chinese airline company was shuttling new passenger jets from the Mainland to China, stopping for a similar overnight refueling and crew refreshing.
“This just goes to show the young people they can do anything they dream of,” Rosemary Smith said.
“They just have to keep working at it.”
Papua New Guinea is part of an arc of mountains stretching from Asia, through Indonesia and into the South Pacific with a vibrant and colorful culture, more than 600 islands and 800 indigenous languages, states the Papua New Guinea tourism website.
• Dennis Fujimoto can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.