COVID-19 death identified as VIP

A titan of the aviation industry, the former governor was flown to Queensland last month before being admitted to intensive care for COVID-19.

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.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she wished to offer her condolences to his family.

“He was a very sick gentleman when he was medevaced (to Brisbane),” she said.

“I want to thank the staff that looked after him.”

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 death.

The former governor was a dual PNG/UK citizen. He was born in London and as a child immigrated to Australia, where he completed his education before going on to serve with distinction in the Australian Defence Force.

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.

PNG Central Province Governor Robert Agarobe wrote Mr Smith had been a “dear friend”.

“My aviation life with Malcolm Kela Smith was a love and hate relationship 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 tough 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 wouldn’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.

PNG’s health system is being decimated by the pandemic, with many patients being transferred to Queensland.

Of the 57 overseas-acquired COVID-19 cases active in Queensland as of Tuesday, 26 are from PNG.

Queensland recorded six new cases of the virus on Tuesday, all of which were overseas acquired and detected in hotel quarantine.

A total of 7406 COVID-19 cases have been detected in PNG since the onset of the pandemic, and 67 deaths have been recorded.

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