A New Zealand pilot taken hostage by rebels in the forests of West Papua has sent a heartbreaking message to his wife and daughter – a year after he was captured.
Philip Mark Mehrtens, a 38-year-old former Jetstar pilot, appears gaunt and pale in a chilling new hostage video.
The disheveled pilot with a shaggy beard says with a nervous laugh: “It's me,” before he says a few encouraging words to his wife Maria and his six-year-old son Jacob.
“I'm fine, they treat me well… I'm trying to stay positive and hope you and Jacob are fine and have support,” he says, forcing a smile.
“I love you both very much and miss you both very much and hope to talk to you soon,” he added.
A video has been released of New Zealand pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens, who has been held by separatist rebels in West Papau for a year
Separatist rebels in Indonesia's Papua region previously released a chilling video that appeared to show them holding guns to the head of Mr. Mehrtens, a captured pilot
In a family photo published on social media, Mr Mehrtens is pictured with his wife Maria and his six-year-old son Jacob
Mr. Mehrtens said the video was filmed on December 22, 2023 and that the rebels waited weeks before sharing it.
The pilot went on to say he had met with the “commander,” likely a reference to Egianus Kogoya, a commander in the insurgent West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB), which is fighting Indonesia's annexation of the territory.
Mr. Mehrtens said he would also speak to the commander about calling his family.
In a second video, also released last week, Mehrtens appears to contact the New Zealand government asking for aid to help him through his time in captivity.
“Can you please help me get a Ventolin inhaler or two so I have them available in case I get asthma?” If possible, could I please get an e-book reader like a Kindle with as many English books as possible?”
“That would be very grateful,” he says.
Mr Mehrtens was working for an Indonesian aviation company on February 7 last year when he was kidnapped after landing his single-engine Susi Air plane on a remote airstrip in the mountainous province of Nduga in the western half of Indonesia in New Guinea
The group from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), captured Mr Mehrtens before setting fire to his plane on the airstrip 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 kidnapped after landing his single-engine Susi Air plane on a remote airstrip in the mountainous province of Nduga in the western half of Indonesia in 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 this group have been fighting against Indonesian control in the easternmost region of Papua since the early 1960s.
The group, which includes child soldiers, uses guerrilla tactics to attack and destroy industrial buildings, in a rejection of Indonesian-led development.
Papuan fighters have never been well armed but have fought against Indonesia since the country took control of the mineral-rich region from the Netherlands in 1962.
The Papuans, who declared independence the year before, view the Indonesians as invaders who consolidated control with a sham referendum sponsored by the United Nations in the late 1960s.
A day after his capture, the group said in a video that he would die like “the rest of us here” if the Indonesian army tried to rescue him.
Rebel separatist spokesman Sebby Sambom wrote on Facebook that Mr Mehrtens was being held hostage for negotiations with Indonesia – but warned that the pilot would be “executed” if Jakarta refused to negotiate or intervened militarily.
Sambom said at the time that the rebels would “never release” Mr. Mehrtens unless Jakarta made the Papua region independent from Indonesia.
However, the Indonesian government stood firm, saying Papua would “forever remain a legitimate part” of Indonesia.
Two months ago, separatist rebels threatened to execute Mr Mehrtens if their demands were not met, although 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 started flying for Jetstar.
The couple then returned to Indonesia to live when he resumed his employment with Susi Air, founded in 2004, which operates a fleet of 50 aircraft.
Separatist rebels kidnapped him after storming an Indonesian Susi Airlines single-engine plane shortly after it landed on a small runway in February.
Mr Mehrtens was kidnapped shortly after landing in Paro, in the remote West Papuan province of Nguda
He was supposed to evacuate 15 construction workers building a health center in the district after separatist rebels threatened to kill them.
“Our plan to evacuate the workers angered the rebels, who then set fire to the plane and arrested the pilot,” said Nduga district manager 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.