First evacuation flight carrying tourists who were trapped in New Caledonia finally arrives in Australia | World News - Hindustan Times
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First evacuation flight carrying tourists who were trapped in New Caledonia finally arrives in Australia

BySumanti Sen
May 21, 2024 07:54 PM IST

A plane carrying Australian tourists who had been trapped in New Caledonia finally arrived in Brisbane on Tuesday, May 21.

A plane carrying Australian tourists who had been trapped in New Caledonia finally arrived in Brisbane on Tuesday, May 21. The passengers were stranded during a week of looting and rioting.

A helicopter of the French "Securite Civile" takes off from the tarmac at Noumea-Magenta Airport in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. A military transport aircraft landed in riot-hit New Caledonia to evacuate trapped tourists May 21, the first rescue flight since looting, arson and deadly gunfire enveloped the French Pacific territory eight days ago (Photo by Delphine Mayeur / AFP)(AFP)
A helicopter of the French "Securite Civile" takes off from the tarmac at Noumea-Magenta Airport in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. A military transport aircraft landed in riot-hit New Caledonia to evacuate trapped tourists May 21, the first rescue flight since looting, arson and deadly gunfire enveloped the French Pacific territory eight days ago (Photo by Delphine Mayeur / AFP)(AFP)

The unrest began on May 13. Since then, their Royal Australian Air Force C130 Hercules was the first evacuation flight that successfully left the French Pacific territory.

"When we landed, it was just like 'Oh, thank God we're here!'" said Mary Hatten, who had spent the last week in a hotel in Noumea during the unrest.

New Caledonia's main international airport is still closed to commercial aircraft. Thousands of tourists are now stranded, many of them barricaded inside hotels with little food supply. Forces sent from Paris have been trying to stop the protests fuelled by opposition to French rule.

The first flight carried about 50-60 passengers, Hatten revealed. They included several children and pregnant women fleeing the violence. The unrest has already killed six, and hundreds were injured.

The day the unrest started, Hatten and her partner, Phil, arrived at Noumea Airport. She told AFP that on the drive to the city "it looked very sketchy” as several Indigenous Kanak protestors "lined the road, waving flags, burning tyres. It felt very uncomfortable".

‘It's a holiday that we didn't expect’

That week, Hatten watched the dark smoke rising over Noumea. Police started staying at the hotel, and multiple commercial flights home were cancelled.

"It's a holiday that we didn't expect," she said. "We just decided that, you know, if we could get a repatriation flight with the Royal Australian Air Force, we would take it."

Early Tuesday, Australian consular staff finally called her, asking her to pack her bags. She was told to be ready to leave on 30 minutes' notice.

A group of passengers assembled in the lobby of the hotel. They were eventually loaded into coaches, and taken to the city's Magenta airport under police and military escort.

At present, over 3,000 travellers are estimated to be stranded. It is unclear how many of them are tourists and how many are Caledonians stuck overseas.

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