First rescue flights from fire-ravaged Rhodes arrive back in the UK as Brits forced to flee in mass evacuation

24 July 2023, 11:24

The first rescue flights from Rhodes have arrived in the UK
The first rescue flights from Rhodes have arrived in the UK. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The first rescue flights have taken Brits back from fire-ravaged Rhodes as tens of thousands flee the devastation.

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Three TUI flights were made overnight while Jet2's first touched down in Leeds late on Sunday.

Evacuations have been taking place in Rhodes and Corfu, as flames spread on idyllic tourist destinations during the searing Mediterranean heatwave.

Brits have been caught up in the disaster, which has ruined summer getaway plans and led to Brits sleeping in temporary accommodation like schools, sports stadiums and the airport.

Airlines have arranged flights to retrieve tourists who want to come home.

Read more: 'Deplorable': Minister slams travel companies as raging wildfires leave up to 10,000 Brits stranded in Corfu and Rhodes

Brits and other tourists are trying to flee the Rhodes fire
Brits and other tourists are trying to flee the Rhodes fire. Picture: Alamy

TUI said: "We're now working hard to get everybody home safely with our first passengers returning to the UK on three dedicated flights overnight and plans in place to get everyone affected back as soon as possible."

Jet2, which has announced three more flights going to Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, said: "We have significantly increased our presence on the island too, with experienced colleagues arriving from other destinations, as well as a dedicated senior team flying from the UK to Rhodes yesterday.

"These colleagues are there to look after our customers in evacuation centres, in resorts, and at Rhodes Airport. We also have staffed transfer coaches taking customers to the airport from evacuation centres today."

EasyJet and British Airways confirmed they would still fly to Rhodes.

There have been complaints that they have been abandoned by travel reps, with nowhere to go and without transportation.

The fire has destroyed parts of Rhodes
The fire has destroyed parts of Rhodes. Picture: Alamy

Some operators failed to contact British families who were left walking up to 12 hours in heat of almost 40C on Rhodes.

Read more: Corfu evacuation order issued after flights to Rhodes cancelled leaving terrified Brits fleeing raging wildfires

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "That is a deplorable state of affairs.

"We will be investigating all of that. I think it's important to make the point that virtually all the tour operators and holiday companies have sprung into action in the proper way and I hope that will continue."

He said up to 10,000 Brits are on Rhodes but that only about 10% of the island was affected by the blaze.

The flames have ruined holiday plans and triggered a massive evacuation
The flames have ruined holiday plans and triggered a massive evacuation. Picture: Alamy

Greece said its evacuation mission is the largest in its history.

Blazes have already seen hundreds get evacuated in the Athens area, where fires are still raging to the west of the capital, and on Evia and Corfu.

Holidaymakers are taken away on boats and over land and put into temporary accommodation elsewhere, some without food or water.

They have been forced to sleep on floors in airports, stadiums and schools as their dream holiday turned into a nightmare.

Read more: 'Don't stop, just run!' British holidaymaker's terrifying tale of running from Rhodes wildfires

Evacuations are under way
Evacuations are under way. Picture: Alamy

In total, about 30,000 people have been moved in an operation supported by the Greek army.

One holidaymaker described the horror of fleeing the fires to LBC.

Narrissa Sketchley said she had to flee in Rhodes after she saw white ash drop from the sky on Thursday evening, then thick black clouds formed as helicopters came to pour water over the blaze.

Read more: 'Travel companies must not fail' to help holidaymakers stranded in Rhodes and Corfu amid swathe of wildfires

Greece has described its operation as the largest evacuation in its history
Greece has described its operation as the largest evacuation in its history. Picture: Alamy

The hotel staff told her to stay put until the Greek government texted them.

"There was no one there to tell us or advise us," she said.

She told Nick "next thing we know there is someone there shouting 'go, go, go' and we ran out of the hotel door and just to the left of us there were red hot flames".

Narrissa said she was told to take her family and flee to the beach.

"We got to the first beach and sat on sunbeds, but there were thick black clouds and ash coming down.

"As soon as we sat on the sunbed we were told not to and told 'run, run, run," Narissa said.

She had to run over "four or five beaches" but with little direction from officials.