Rescue aircraft returns nearly empty as two more jets fly out


Rescue aircraft returns nearly empty as two more jets fly out, by Cynthia Banham - 30th Dec 04
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)


A Virgin Blue aircraft sent to Phuket to pick up stranded Australians was due to arrive home last night with only 14 passengers on board.

Meanwhile, Qantas has dispatched two aircraft, one to Phuket and one to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, to bring back travellers wanting to leave.

The Federal Government announced a package to help Australians pay for funeral costs and medical costs not covered by insurance policies, as well as to cover domestic travel costs to visit injured family members.

In addition, the Government is arranging for Centrelink staff to be posted at airports in Australia to provide travellers arriving back from the tsunami-affected region with counselling services.

A number of Centrelink social workers have already been deployed to Thailand, where they are providing on-the-ground services to traumatised Australians.

A Virgin Blue spokesman said that there was a small number of travellers on board the flight from Phuket, which was offered by the airline at no cost, because some people who had previously said they wanted to return home had decided to stay or to go to Bangkok.

Some had already caught commercial flights out of the devastated resort area.

The Government has arranged for Centrelink to provide onward flights - and if required overnight accommodation - at no charge for passengers needing to travel beyond Darwin and Melbourne, where the Virgin Blue flight was due to stop.

The aircraft had taken a 20-person medical team and two Australian Federal Police disaster identification teams to Phuket. They were led by Australia's new ambassador to Thailand, Bill Paterson.

Qantas also sent a 767 aircraft to Phuket yesterday to bring home Australians. The 225-person capacity aircraft was due to arrive in Sydney before 8am today.

A second aircraft was sent to Male in the Maldives and on to Colombo in Sri Lanka carrying 20 medical officers from AusAID and nine pallets of medical equipment for the devastated countries.

The 747 will transport back to Australia any people wishing to leave either of the two countries, a spokesman for Qantas said.

It is due back in Sydney at 5pm tomorrow.

With an estimated 8000 Australians believed to have been travelling in the tsunami-affected areas and only 3000 accounted for, the Government has deployed a total of 60 extra consular officials to the region, most of them to Thailand.

The officials are helping tourists obtain medical treatment and emergency shelter, replace lost travel documents and repatriate the remains of the dead.

Media

The Sydney Morning Herald

Fairfax

Mediaman

Asian Tsunami

Aviation

The Coastal Directory

Virgin Blue