Couple get last flight TWICE during epic global journey home
PUBLISHED: 13:00 29 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:31 29 March 2020
Two Norfolk families have hailed the extensive efforts of a travel agent and Foreign Office staff in helping bring their loved ones home from a Pacific island as a backpacking adventure was cut short by coronavirus travel bans.
Charlotte Livermore, 18, and Freddy Kemp, 20, had embarked on the trip of a lifetime in October, initially doing farm work to earn as they explored Australia before moving on to New Zealand in January.
The couple, from Brundall, planned to move on to the islands of Vanuatu and Bali before visiting south-east Asian countries including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as their six-month adventure came to an end.
However, a few days after arriving on Vanuatu, New Zealand closed their borders and the onward flights were made impossible.
An initial flight from the island’s tiny airport to Brisbane in Australia on March 21 was cancelled at the last moment due to not having the required paperwork to fly in and transfer at an Australian airport, as regulations were tightened to restrict travel and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Miss Livermore’s father Steve, well known in the local cricket scene having previously played for Norfolk CCC and Norwich CC, explained: “Charlotte rang me up at four in the morning, their time, in tears saying they wouldn’t let them on the plane and that’s when I started making calls to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“There was a hotline for both in London and Sydney, which was the closest British consulate, and luckily the British High Commissioner to Vanuatu, a lady by the name of Karen Bell, was contacted by a British person at the airport who just so happened to see Charlotte’s situation - and she came to the airport immediately.”
Mrs Bell then became an important figure in both assisting and comforting the couple, securing a place on the last flight out of Vanuatu on Monday, March 23, which turned out to be the last before the island’s borders were closed.
With a 72-hour window open for those who needed to fly in to Australia from the Pacific islands or New Zealand, to allow them to fly elsewhere, paperwork was frantically filled out to ensure Miss Livermore and Mr Kemp, who is captain of the second team at Norwich CC, could begin their journey home.
Working with Norfolk travel agent Nicola Reetz, who is part of the Travel Counsellors network, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff managed to secure safe passage - just 15 minutes before the gate closed in Vanuatu.
“The two diplomats did not give up and Karen Bell even stayed to make sure the plane had taken off before writing to us all, to confirm that they were on that first leg back to Sydney,” a grateful Mr Livermore continued.
“Then it was back through Singapore to London and they ended up being on the last flight out of Vanuatu and the last flight out of Singapore, before they closed their borders to any incoming travellers as well.
“So it was very dramatic but without the direct involvement of the British diplomats from the FCO office there and in Australia, and without this amazing work that Nicola Reetz was able to do to actually got them on flights, the story is that it’s absolutely possible to get home.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not just a case of just sitting there and waiting for the British government to send a rescue plane, but saying we’re not going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend this isn’t happening, we need to speak to people and make this happen.
“All of those people stood up and did more than was expected of them and I was able to go and pick them up at Heathrow on Tuesday morning, after a 36-hour travel, but back to the UK fit and healthy and we’re currently going through a period of self-isolation doe to that international travel.”
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