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It sounded like the perfect festive break: a cruise around the sunny Caribbean, before flying back to the cold and wet UK just in time for Christmas.
But the idyllic vacation turned into something of a nightmare for the 225 British passengers on P&O Cruises’ Caribbean Fly-Cruise, after their chartered return flight hit “freak” turbulence, landing some passengers in hospital and delaying everyone’s return home until after Christmas.
The passengers had booked one or two-week cruises on the luxurious Arvia ship. With no fewer than four pools and 30 bars and restaurants onboard, it was set to be a dreamy trip around top Caribbean destinations, including Antigua, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic.
As it happened, the cruise went to plan. But getting home in time for Christmas was a different story.
Passengers boarded a charter plane, organized by the cruise company, to fly them from Barbados to Manchester on December 23, but shortly after takeoff the plane experienced every flyer’s nightmare: clear air turbulence, which is impossible to predict. It hit two and a half hours into the flight, as the Airbus 300-200, operated by Maleth Aero, was cruising at 38,000 feet.
The plane diverted to LF Wade Airport in Bermuda, where 11 passengers were taken to hospital. A spokesperson for P&O Cruises confirmed that all were discharged the same day. None of the 13 crew were injured.
But their mission to get home for Christmas was still thwarted, as the flight could not be operated again until December 26. Instead, the passengers were put up in hotels in Bermuda at the cruise company’s expense.
The repatriation flight was due to take off on Tuesday afternoon, arriving back in the UK on the morning of Wednesday December 27.
A Bermuda government spokesperson said in a statement released to local outlet Bernews that all the injuries were minor.
They added: “At approximately 12:50 a.m., Maleth Aero Flight 1975, en route from Barbados to Manchester experienced severe turbulence, necessitating an emergency landing at LF Wade International Airport.
“The aircraft executed a controlled landing on the island.
“Emergency Medical Technicians from the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service [BFRS] greeted the aircraft to provide initial assessments of the passengers and pre-hospital care.
“As a precautionary measure, the aircraft will remain grounded until a comprehensive inspection has been completed, ensuring the safety and integrity of the aircraft.”
Bermuda’s Acting Minister of National Security Owen Darrell, added in a statement: “We are extremely grateful for the quick response of all our emergency services personnel who ensured the safety of the passengers and crew.”
A spokesperson for P&O Cruises told CNN in a statement: “Following freak (unexpected) turbulence a flight from Barbados to Manchester was diverted to Bermuda on Sunday morning.
“Having explored all flying options and due to airport operating times, guests were placed in hotels in Bermuda. The flight home will now depart at 4 p.m. today [Tuesday].
“We are very sorry for this disruption to the journey following their holiday and we worked round the clock with the airline and hotels to take care of the guests and to ensure they get home as soon as possible.”
They added that passengers were sent seven texts and five letters keeping them updated over the three-day period they were in Bermuda.