Gaunt-looking hostage pilot Philip Mehrtens tells his wife and young son ‘It’s me’ in chilling new ‘proof of life’ video released by his bow and arrow-wielding captors a year after he was seized by rebels in remote Papua

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Written By Maya Cantina

A New Zealand pilot who was taken hostage by rebels in the forests of West Papua has sent a heartbreaking message to his wife and daughter – one year after he was taken captive.

Philip Mark Mehrtens, a 38-year-old former Jetstar pilot, appears gaunt and pale in a chilling new hostage video.

Sporting a scraggly beard, the dishevelled pilot says: ‘It’s me,’ with a nervous chuckle, before adding a few more words of encouragement to his wife Maria and six-year-old son Jacob.

‘I’m OK, they are treating me well… I’m trying to stay positive and I hope that you and Jacob are healthy and doing OK and getting support,’ he says, forcing a smile.

‘I love you both lots and miss you both lots and hope to be able to talk with you soon,’ he adds.

A video has been released of New Zealand pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens, who has been held for a year by separatist rebels in West Papau

Separatist rebels in the Indonesian region of Papua previously released a chilling video that appeared to show them holding guns to the head of Mr Mehrtens, a captive pilot

Separatist rebels in the Indonesian region of Papua previously released a chilling video that appeared to show them holding guns to the head of Mr Mehrtens, a captive pilot

Mr Mehrtens is pictured with his wife Maria and six-year-old son Jacob in a family photograph posted to social media

Mr Mehrtens is pictured with his wife Maria and six-year-old son Jacob in a family photograph posted to social media

Mr Mehrtens said the video was shot on December 22, 2023, with the rebels waiting weeks before sharing it. 

The pilot went on to explain he had met with the ‘komandant’, likely a reference to Egianus Kogoya, a commander in the rebel West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) that is fighting the Indonesian annexation of the territory. 

Mr Mehrtens said he would also talk to the komandant about making a phone call to his family. 

In a second video also released last week, Mehrtens appears to address the New Zealand government and asks for some supplies to ease his time in captivity.

‘Can you please help to get one or two ventolin inhalers just so that I have them available in case I get some asthma and, if possible, can I please get an e-book reader like a Kindle with as many English books as possible. 

‘That would be very much appreciated,’ he says.

Mr Mehrtens was working for an Indonesian aviation company on February 7 last year when he was abducted after landing his single-engine Susi Air plane on a remote airstrip in the mountainous province of Nduga, found in Indonesia 's western half of New Guinea

Mr Mehrtens was working for an Indonesian aviation company on February 7 last year when he was abducted after landing his single-engine Susi Air plane on a remote airstrip in the mountainous province of Nduga, found in Indonesia ‘s western half of New Guinea

The group from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), seized Mr Mehrtens before setting fire to his plane on the runway in Paro in the remote Nduga district on February 7 (pictured)

The group from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), seized Mr Mehrtens before setting fire to his plane on the runway in Paro in the remote Nduga district on February 7 (pictured)

Mr Mehrtens was working for an Indonesian aviation company on February 7 last year when he was abducted after landing his single-engine Susi Air plane on a remote airstrip in the mountainous province of Nduga, found in Indonesia’s western half of New Guinea.

What is the West Papua Liberation Army?  

The West Papua Liberation Army is the armed wing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). 

Separatist rebels from the group have fought Indonesian control in the easternmost region of Papua since the early 1960s.

The group, which has child soldiers among its ranks, employs guerrilla tactics to target and destroy industrial buildings as a rejection of Indonesian-led development. 

The Papuan fighters have never been well armed but have battled Indonesia since it took control of the mineral-rich region from the Dutch in 1962.

Papuans, who had declared their independence the year before, see Indonesians as invaders who cemented control with a UN-sponsored sham referendum at the end of the 1960s.

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A day after he was captured, the group said in a video that he ‘will die here’ like ‘the rest of us’ if the Indonesian army tried to rescue him.

Rebel separatists’ spokesperson Sebby Sambom wrote on Facebook that Mr Mehrtens will be held hostage for negotiations with Indonesia – but warned that if Jakarta refused to negotiate or intervened militarily then the pilot ‘will be executed’. 

Sambom said at the time that the rebels would ‘never release’ Mr Mehrtens unless Jakarta made the Papua region independent from Indonesia.

But the Indonesian government stood firm, saying Papua will ‘forever remain a legitimate part’ of Indonesia.

Two months ago, the separatist rebels threatened to execute Mr Mehrtens if their demands were not met, though he appears to remain alive. 

Mr Mehrtens met his wife Maria in Indonesia, before the couple moved to New Zealand and settled in Auckland after the pilot began flying for Jetstar.

The couple then returned to live in Indonesia when he recommenced employment with Susi Air, founded in 2004, which operates a fleet of 50 aircraft.

Separatist rebels kidnapped him after they stormed a single-engine Indonesian Susi Airlines plane shortly after it landed on a small runway in February.

Mr Mehrtens was kidnapped shortly after touching down in Paro in the remote West Papuan province of Nguda

Mr Mehrtens was kidnapped shortly after touching down in Paro in the remote West Papuan province of Nguda

He was scheduled to evacuate 15 construction workers building a health centre in the district after the separatist rebels threatened to kill them.

‘Our plan to evacuate the workers angered the rebels, who responded by setting fire to the plane and seizing the pilot,’ said Nduga district chief Namia Gwijangge, who was one of the passengers. 

‘We deeply regret this incident.’

The rebels released all five passengers because they were indigenous Papuans, rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom said at the time.

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ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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