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Fakenham people caught up in volcano crisis

PUBLISHED: 11:15 21 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:17 07 July 2010

Bowls star Jamie Chestney, from Fakenham

Bowls star Jamie Chestney, from Fakenham

From school children to the assistant mayor, people from across the Fakenham and Dereham area are among the thousands of people left stranded around the world because of the volcano ash flight ban.

From school children to the assistant mayor, people from across the Fakenham and Dereham area are among the thousands of people left stranded around the world because of the volcano ash flight ban.

The eruption beneath Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull glacier created an ash cloud that forced airspace closures across Europe, and an estimated 150,000 Britons were left stranded overseas as a result of flight restrictions.

Last night British airspace was reopened and flights are now resuming. Many people are also attempting epic journeys by land and sea in a bid to get home as soon as possible.

Some have already managed to get home against the odds - including a group from Scarning Primary School who were on an exchange trip to Italy. The group had been visiting two schools in Prato near Florence and some of the children were as young as six and enjoying their first trip abroad.

After their flight from Pisa was cancelled they embarked on a two day journey on trains and coaches which eventually saw them arrive back at the village near Dereham on Saturday morning thanks to Richards Coaches who picked them up when Eurostar services were booked solid.

Teaching assistant Martine Brigstock said: “On the whole it was a fantastic bonding experience for our group. Our children have had a real experience to look back on as well as the great school visit, and we feel we got back even though everyone was saying we couldn't.”

Two teachers from Fakenham High School also endured a torturous overland journey to make it back from Rome in time for the start of the new term.

Dave Eaves and Noel Patterson were in Italy researching a trip they had planned for their students. They arrived at Ciampino airport on Thursday afternoon to find all flights were grounded.

After being unsuccessful in their attempts to find a hire car they instead booked a 6am train ticket to Genoa where they had hoped to connect to Paris. But with no trains available they ended up on a four-hour rail journey to Nice, where a sleeper train for the French capital was due to leave that night.

But a national rail strike scuppered those plans, and left them with a 12-hour car journey to channel train terminals where they caught the Eurostar.

Mr Eaves said: "When the train got to Folkestone, there was a huge sigh of relief. Nothing in the journey went right - it was trip full of dead ends and quick thinking. We didn't sleep for 30 hours."

Dereham's assistant mayor Lynda Turner also had her flight home from China cancelled at the last minute.

Mrs Turner said on Tuesday: “We were checked in to fly home, we watched our luggage being loaded, the crew boarded, we were at the gate, then, the luggage was unloaded, the crew came off and the word 'cancelled' showed. But we did not know why. Seven hours later we did.”

Mrs Turner, who has had to get a new Chinese visa because hers expired a few days ago, has been staying at a hotel in Beijing and been battling to get home ever since.

She said fellow British tourists who are stranded had all be supporting each other, and she was with a group of about 75 British people, including five people from Dereham.

Today she spoke of her relief that British airspace had reopened.

She said: “Now we have to wait for our passports and new visas to be returned from the Chinese government, and then we have to sit and wait for a flight to somewhere!”

Dereham model Kerri Parker, who runs the Kerri Parker Model Academy in Norwich, has been stuck in Mallorca, and bowls star Jamie Chestney, from Fakenham, has had his once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia for the World Cup cancelled. The World Cup will now get underway at Warilla in New South Wales today without any competitors from the United Kingdom.

“I was half expecting it, but it's still extremely disappointing,” said Mr Chestney, a 23-year-old electrician.

Joanna Pedlow, head of Toftwood Infant School said four of her staff were stranded - including a teacher who is in New Zealand, and has been told she cannot get a flight home until May 1.

From Toftwood Junior three members of the school's senior leadership team, including the headteacher Alex Gelling, were left stranded in Egypt, and a teaching assistant is stuck in Majorca.

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