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Gib passengers homeward bound after Malaga tarmac drama

By Eyleen Gomez and Brian Reyes

An easyJet flight carrying Gibraltarian students amongst its passengers was diverted to Malaga this evening because of high winds in Gibraltar, leaving passengers stranded because the airline had not organised coaches due to the Covid-19 restrictions in Spain.

The plane was about to fly back to Bristol but remained on the tarmac following a top-level intervention by the Chief Minister and Spain’s Foreign and Interior ministries.

As passengers stood in the aisle to prevent the plane from taking off, Fabian Picardo spoke to Spanish officials, the airline and even the plane’s captain in order to get the students home.

After nearly two hours of tension during which parents awaited in angst for news, easyJet finally agreed to organise the transport back to Gibraltar, where the students were due to arrive early Wednesday morning.

“Apparently the problem that has arisen is because easyJet have not organised coaches,” Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the Chronicle. 

“I have spoken to the pilot.  The Spanish foreign affairs ministry and the interior ministry have cleared the passengers to land. They have been helpful throughout.”

“The problem is easyJet have not organised the coaches yet.”

"It is entirely an easyJet operational error not a problem with the Spanish authorities at all.”

“Given the state of emergency, the passengers cannot be landed without confirmed transport to Gibraltar.”

The easyJet Bristol flight was diverted with an estimated 85 passengers on board, many of them students coming home amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Gusting easterly winds of up to 38 knots battered the Rock tonight and despite two attempts the easyJet flight was not able to land.

As per standard practice in these situations the flight diverted to Malaga.

However, with Spain now being in a state of emergency since the weekend, local passengers were not allowed to disembark and were due to be flown back tomorrow to Bristol until the political intervention.

Some Spanish residents were allowed off the plane shortly after it landed, in line with the Spanish state of emergency rules.

On board was student Lauren Schembri, who told the Chronicle that the pilot had initially informed them that “the Spanish government are not allowing us to get off the flight because of the lockdown due to coronavirus.”

The mood onboard while on the ground at Malaga, she said, was restless, with everyone standing up.

“Everyone is very anxious right now and just want to get off the plane after two very scary attempts,” she said.

Gibraltarian Francis Caruana was also onboard.

In a video message to the Chronicle he said: “The plane is full of students heading back to Gibraltar because of the emergency.”

“Families I am sure are very worried and very concerned, students are wanting to get back home ASAP and their parents want them there with them ASAP too.”

“So please to whoever are the powers that be, do something, thank you."

After the tense wait, the news that they were finally coming home brought euphoria to the passengers in the cabin.

“So happy and appreciative of everyone who’s stepped in to help,” Miss Schembri told the Chronicle.

“Nothing beats the llanitos.”

The Chronicle contacted easyJet for comment.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been amended to correct an error in the second paragraph. An earlier version of this report stated the plane would fly back to Malaga, when we meant Bristol.