An easyJet pilot taking British holidaymakers to Rhodes told passengers it was a ‘terrible idea’ to go there while wildfires rage, leading to some getting off the plane just before take off from Gatwick.
An estimated 10,000 Brits are on the Greek island with 30,000 due there over the coming weeks as huge numbers of exhausted holidaymakers arrived back and slammed the ‘chaotic’ evacuation. Many hotels are set to be closed for at least the next two weeks.
But the Foreign Office and the Greek Government believe it is safe to travel to the island the largest of the Dodecanese islands. Holidaymakers are only guaranteed compensation through travel insurance if the government advises against travel.
Today it emerged that an easyJet pilot heading to Rhodes had issued a stern warning to Brits on his plane. Some 37 passengers, including a young boy, attempted to fly out of Gatwick despite terrifying fires scorching the Greek island, sparking the country’s biggest evacuation in history.
But in the final moments before take-off, the pilot issued a stark warning, telling passengers on board the 180-seat capacity aircraft that travelling to the resort island was a ‘bad idea’.
The pilot reportedly told passengers over the Tannoy before take-off: ‘Travelling to Rhodes for a holiday at the moment is a terrible idea. As far as I’m concerned, this flight is being operated on an emergency basis. Return flights are now being managed by the military. If you want to get off flight, you are welcome to do so.
‘I don’t know in what capacity you are travelling, but if you are travelling for leisure, my sincere recommendation is it’s a bad idea.’
Journalist Gwyn Loader, who was on the flight to Rhodes to report for BBC Wales’ Welsh-language news programme Newyddion, said that eight passengers chose to listen to the advice and disembark, including the young boy who was in tears.
Brits have been warned not to travel to the burning island of Rhodes (pictured) – as an easyJet pilot even pleaded with passengers to disembark a flight there
German tourists take water from a swimming pool of a hotel as they try to extinguish a fire near the seaside resort of Lindos
Tourists queue to get on coaches at the Gennadi Beach on the Aegean Sea Island of Rhodes, Greece
Locals prepare to tackle a wildfire approaching the village of Masari, on the island of Rhodes
An evacuation centre in Rhodes. Tourists were forced to sleep on the floor as they tried to flee
Rhodes burns for a seventh day. A weeklong wildfire on the Greek resort island has sparked mass evacuations with thousand of Brits abroad – but some are still attempting to get there
A weeklong wildfire on the Greek resort island of Rhodes has torn past defenses, forcing more evacuations
A wildfire has caused havoc on the Greek island of Rhodes with around 19,000 people having so far been evacuated from villages and hotels
Around 30,000 more Brits could face losing their holidays this summer.
Families have been forced to flee their burning hotels and find room to sleep on the floor in the packed airport, schools and stadiums as they desperately try to catch flights home.
Those lucky enough to escape have spoken of the ‘chaos’ of their evacuations after large parts of the idyllic island were devastated by seven days of wildfires in what was described as a ‘Biblical catastrophe’ by a hotel manager.
The mass evacuation has gathered pace but at least 5,000 Brits still remain on the resort island and many have had to spend a third night in temporary shelters as they wait to be taken home.
Some resorts have suffered catastrophic damage from the destructive fires, raising major doubts over whether they will even be able to reopen at all this summer. The Times reports an estimated 30,000 Brits who have holidays booked to Rhodes in the next two weeks could be left in limbo as tour operators plan more cancellations.
Over the weekend, as the fires became progressively worse, around 19,000 people from homes and hotels were evacuated, many fleeing for their lives, leaving their belongings behind as they were chased by roaring flames and thick black smoke.
Lindos hotel manager Kyriakos Sarikas said: ‘It’s like a Biblical catastrophe. We need to have a plan going out of this crisis to restore the whole area.
Despite the threat of a major financial setback in the peak holiday season, Mr Sarikas was more concerned about the environment. He added: ‘The hotel is a hotel – you can rebuild it, you can repaint it – but the nature outside is the most important thing, because all this is a result of the environmental crisis that we are facing.’
After Corfu also became engulfed in flames and Greek authorities issued a wildfire alert for the island of Crete, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defiantly told the nation’s Parliament: ‘This battle is uneven, and it will keep being like that for as long as the conditions remain hard.
‘We’re at war with the fire and we will rebuild everything lost, will compensate anyone affected.’
TUI has cancelled all flights to Rhodes up to Friday as wildfires continue to engulf the Greek island. On Monday night, officials issued a fresh evacuation for the popular holiday area of Kalathos in Rhodes.
The UK Government said as many 10,000 British nationals are on the island, which is one of Greece’s most popular holiday destinations, but this is thought to be down to 5,000 now.
Jet2 laid on four emergency flights back to the UK on Monday night, while TUI announced an additional flight for Tuesday morning to try and get more than 1,000 Brits home.
Holidaymaker James Swanson accused his travel company of abandoning his family as soon as they landed on fire-ravaged Rhodes. Pictured: Mr Swanson with his wife Sarah, and two children, Caitlin, 15 and Harry, 11
Thousands of exhuasted holidaymakers arrived back in Gatwick and slammed the ‘chaotic’ evacuation’ including Leigh and Charlotte Buckwell, pictured with their children Izabella, four, and Henry, two
Leigh and Charlotte Buckwell watched on in growing horror as the skies above the island’s idyllic beaches turned yellow and ash fell into their all-inclusive food and drink
The family were staying at the five-star Mitsis hotel in Kiotari, on the island’s south-eastern coast, and were enjoying their ten-day break before receiving a worrying warning about evacuations in the next town
When coaches were later organised to take them to another hotel, the family witnessed ‘fights’ breaking out over who would be first on
People sit inside a car as they watch the fires near the village of Malona in the Greek island of Rhodes
Blazes in Rhodes are still ‘out of control’ according to the island’s deputy mayor, while Sunday’s fires in Corfu – some 670 miles away – forced 2,500 to be evacuated but the flames are largely under control.
Temperatures were yesterday once again rising towards 40C (104F) and fires whipped up by winds were spreading – causing around 300 people to be evacuated from two more villages on Rhodes.
But with thousands of Brits now left in limbo over whether they will have a summer holiday in Rhodes, those who have made it home have revealed their survival tales, including how they felt abandoned by tour operators.
Holidaymaker James Swanson, from Reading, paid £9,000 to TUI for a 12-day break at the luxury Atlantica Dream Hotel for his wife Sarah, and two children, Caitlin, 15 and Harry, 11.
But after landing on Saturday night they were barred from travelling to the hotel and were one of many families left stranded at a school, where they slept on a mattress in the playground.
Mr Swanson said: ‘We have been totally abandoned by TUI. I didn’t know anything about the wildfires until we arrived on Saturday night.
‘Since then I’ve heard nothing from TUI. If it hadn’t been for the local Greek people I don’t know what we would have done.
‘They have given us food and water and mattresses to sleep. TUI have given us nothing. I’m furious.’ He added: ‘I’m going to sue.’
Peter Szatkowski’s family booked earlier return flights to flee the wildfires. They were forced into four hotels in one day before they escaped, sometimes walking for hours between them.
Leigh and Charlotte Buckwell – along with their children Izabella, four, and Henry, two – watched on in growing horror as the skies above the island’s idyllic beaches turned yellow and ash fell into their all-inclusive food and drink.
The family were staying at the five-star Mitsis hotel in Kiotari, on the island’s south-eastern coast, and were enjoying their 10-day break before receiving a worrying warning about evacuations in the next town.
When coaches were later organised to take them to another hotel, the family witnessed ‘fights’ breaking out over who would be first on.
The family, from who regularly holiday in Greece, said they had never witnessed anything quite like the disturbing scenes they’d seen in Rhodes on their latest trip.
‘It was pretty much carnage to be honest,’ 42-year-old Mr Buckwell said, his son Henry excitedly adding: ‘We had to go to the beach! The sky was yellow!’
The technical sales manager continued: ‘The fire was burning for five days before anyone started taking it seriously.
‘I think it went seven miles in a couple of hours because of the wind.’
Mrs Buckwell, a part-time cleaner, added: ‘Saturday morning we thought it was a bit dodgy.
‘I ran back to get the passports and a few valuables, and the siren was going off for us to evacuate. The hotel were fantastic. TUI were terrible, apparently.’
The family, from Rochester in Kent, explained that they were evacuated to another Mitsis hotel further up the coast in Faliraki, after getting a lift in a pickup truck to an evacuation point.
‘We slept on the floor of the bar area,’ 39-year-old Mrs Buckwell said.
‘We got the second coach… People were forcing themselves on the bus, but we queued for one. I was getting a bit emotional on the way home.
‘The Greeks have been amazing. The kids were fine, but they had to walk a fair bit.
‘When I came back last night to get the suitcases, I saw one of the posh beach bars had completely burned down.’
‘The locals were fantastic,’ Mr Buckwell agreed. ‘But there wasn’t much support for them.
Martin Bowery with his wife Victoria and son Hayden, arriving at Gatwick airport from Rhodes
Terrified British families who have escaped fire-ravaged Rhodes have described the scenes of panic and chaos during their desperate evacuation. Pictured: Women embrace each other at Gatwick airport on Monday
Holidaymaker Peter Szatkowski, 39, and his family arrive at Gatwick Airport after being moved to four different hotels for safety and evacuated off the Greek island of Rhodes as wildfires continue to spread and thousands are forced to flee
Ben White shows a photo of the fires on his phone as holidaymakers arrive at the Gatwick Airport after being evacuated off the Greek island of Rhodes
Holidaymakers have started to arrive back at Gatwick after succesfully evacuating the scorched island of Rhodes following terrifying wildfires
Hannah Dolman and Dominic Doggett arrive on a flight from Rhodes in Greece into Gatwick Airport. They had to evacuate a wedding party
‘It was just crazy. People were on the back of lorries, trucks and vans to get to the evacuation points.
‘I was one of the lucky ones who got the evacuation message.’
Mr Buckwell explained that the first evacuation message popped up on his phone on Saturday, for the next town to theirs.
‘It was scary at the start,’ he said. ‘There were people sleeping outside our hotel, just on the grass.’
The couple admitted that though they had witnessed wildfires in Greece before, this was the worst they had ever experienced.
‘We go to Greece pretty frequently,’ Mrs Buckley said. ‘I have seen the fires before. Last time, about four years ago, we had to leave because the skies got too smoky.’
‘But it had never been as bad as this time, to be honest,’ Mr Buckwell added. Half of our hotel was caught in the fires.’
On the moment they knew the fires were something more serious than they had first considered, Mr Buckley explained: ‘Saturday we had lunch about 12 o’clock.
‘There was ash dropping all over, and even on Friday night as well. We went to the beach anyway, then it kind of went from, ‘How serious is this?’ to really serious.
‘We had to go to a place called Gennadi – that’s where the Atlantic TUI hotel was – and we went in a pickup truck to a school playground.
‘Mitsis arranged coaches to take us to Faliraki, where they’ve got another hotel.’
Mrs Buckwell said she saw people ‘fighting’ to board the coaches, after being told that families with young children should be prioritised.
This image provided by Maxar Technologies, shows an active wildfire near Gennadi on the island of Rhodes, Greece, Monday July 24, 2023
A local resident tries to extinguish a fire, near the seaside resort of Lindos, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes, southeastern Greece
A fire burns trees and low vegetation in the Kiotari area of Rhodes, Greece, 24 July 2023
A man uses towel over his face as he tries to extinguish a fire, near the seaside resort of Lindos
A Turkish firefighting plane flies over a wildfire burning on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 24, 2023
‘People were fighting to get on the buses,’ she said. ‘There were families and small children there.
‘It wasn’t the English fighting, to be fair. It was the Germans, French, Italians… lots of people without kids were just pushing past us.
‘We were just lucky we were with a good hotel, because if we hadn’t been, I think we would have been screwed.’
The family had to rush onto a bus to collect their car, but not before Mr Buckwell showed shocking photos of a luminous red sky over a beach, and videos of flames engulfing entire forests.
Some other families who had been repatriated looked dishevelled as they arrived at Gatwick this evening, with one man saying: ‘We have come back from Rhodes, but to be honest we just want to get home.’
Ari, an Iraqi national, said he and his partner had to endure three days at their hotel with no air conditioning or cold drinks due to the power being cut out.
The 41-year-old, who works in Tesco, said: ‘We had no electricity in our hotel for three days; no cold drinks and no air-conditioning in that heat… for three days it was like that.
‘We had to use our phone lights to go down the corridor at night.
‘We saw lots of smoke, but we didn’t see the fires.’
Tourists had to find places to sleep on the floor at evacuation centres in Rhodes as they waited for flights home
A family curl up together as they wait at Rhodes Airport for a flight home following a week of fires
A woman sleeps on the baggage carrousel at Rhodes International Airport as she waits for a flight
Meanwhile, Arni and her husband, who had just arrived back into London from Corfu, said the wildfires there had seen them wake this morning to find their hotel ‘covered’ in ashes.
‘There were fires in Corfu as well,’ she said.
‘The hotel next to us was evacuated, and when we woke up this morning, all of the hotel and the swimming pool was covered with ash.
‘We could see the fires raging on the hill.’
A couple from Norwich were forced to evacuate from a wedding party they were guests at after a power cut on Saturday. ‘The wedding was due to finish at 2am but it finished three hours early,’ he said.
Dominic Doggett, 30, and his fiancee Hannah Dolman, 28, had to stay on the floor of an office in a hotel after the wedding do came to an ‘abrupt end’.
After arriving at Gatwick Airport, Mr Doggett said: ‘Mid-afternoon at the wedding we got a notification that said some areas were being evacuated.
‘With it being a wedding we tried to keep the bride and groom unaware and stay as happy as possible. ‘Later in the evening… we got a further notification on our phones from the alert system to say our area was also being evacuated. The music cut and the lights came on and the staff said we needed to leave.’
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis saidthe country was ‘at war’ with the fires during a debate in parliament.
‘Over the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert.’
Help continued to arrive from the European Union and elsewhere on Monday, with firefighting planes from neighbouring Turkey joining the effort in Rhodes, where 10 water-dropping planes and 10 helicopters buzzed over flames up to five metres (16ft) tall despite low visibility.
‘The risk of fire will be extreme in several areas of Greece today,’ fire service spokesperson Vassilis Vathrakogiannis said a day after temperatures on the southern Greek mainland soared as high as 45C.
A relative respite from the heat on Monday, with highs of 38C forecast, is to be followed by yet more high temperatures starting on Tuesday.
However, it should get significantly cooler on Thursday, with temperatures in the low to mid-30s Celsius, the country’s Meteorological Service said.