The South African group who returned home. Picture: Supplied.
The South African group who returned home. Picture: Supplied.

How a Cape Town family started a rescue mission to bring stranded South Africans home from Maldives

By Travel Reporter Time of article published Apr 30, 2020

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Lloyd and Laetitia Flanagan from Durbanville in Cape Town travelled to the picturesque Maldives to celebrate their 11th anniversary. They brought along their two daughters. 

Everything was running smoothly and the family were due to arrive back in South Africa on March 26. Things took a turn for the worst and the family had to stay in the Maldives due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

Instead of trying to get themselves home, the family began a rescue mission to get all South Africans stranded in the Maldives home. The mission was not simple, it involved three weeks of sleepless nights, a $104 000 (about R1.8-million) charter flight and government approval from three countries. 

“No one could have predicted the rapid scale and impact that the virus would have in the days and weeks to follow,” the family reveal. 

“We were enjoying our vacation and were due to fly from the Maldives via Dubai on March 26. The day before, we found out that the UAE closed their borders and our flights were cancelled. 

“We contacted our Flight Centre agent Nicolle Bester who looked for flights to get us home. Flights were limited and very expensive,” the family said. 

Lloyd said they knew that it was serious when other flights they booked were cancelled. 

“The financial implications of being stuck in the Maldives was absolutely terrifying. While we knew that it would be safer for us to be stranded on a remote island where we were basically in isolation and had the freedom of a splendid 'backyard,' we wanted to be in the safety and familiarity of our home and close to loved ones.”

Bester reached out to the Honorary Consul of South Africa in the Maldives, Mohammed Ali Manik, assistant Aminath Adam, and Deputy Johannes Van Niekerk from the South African Embassy in Sri Lanka for assistance to get the family home. 

The Consulate offered their assistance and the idea to charter a flight home for 10 Flight Centre passengers began to transpire. It quickly turned into a mission team to get all the South Africans in the Maldives home. 

“The biggest challenge was that the cost of this charter flight was to be self-funded by the passengers. We received a quotation of $104 000 from Maldivian Airlines,” said Laetitia. 

“The initial cost per passenger came in at $3 500 per person, after which some of the South Africans started pulling their names off the list, as they simply could not afford it. We ended up adding 11 Mauritians, which brought some financial relief to the remaining South Africans” added Bester. 

The challenges continued as the initial departure date for April 1 was pushed back 10 days as everything needed to be finalised. Passenger lists and permits had to be approved by three governments, some passengers added and removed their names from the list, and at some point, the initial aircraft was then no longer available. 

Around 41 South Africans and 10 Mauritians departed the Maldives on April 11. 

They arrived at OR Tambo Airport and checked into a quarantine facility at the Eskom Academy of Learning (EAL) centre in Midrand. The group tested negative for the coronavirus.

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