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‘We made it’: Cheers and relief as charter flight carrying nearly 450 Australians from India lands in Melbourne

Rescue flight carrying 444 Australian passengers lands in Melbourne. Source: Supplied

Passengers erupted in loud cheers and applause as the charter flight carrying the first batch of Australians who were stuck in India’s coronavirus lockdown touched down in Melbourne.

A group of 444 Australians, including 33 infants, who had been stuck in India arrived in Melbourne aboard a Lion Air chartered flight from New Delhi, shortly after 8 pm on Sunday.

Priyani, a passenger onboard the rescue flight said she was full of “mixed emotions” when the flight touched down at the Tullamarine Airport.

“Mixed emotions to be returning home-sadly and with heavy hearts, we were unable to say goodbye to family in India properly in person,” Ms Priyani told SBS Punjabi.


Highlights:

  • Rescue flight carrying 444 Australians lands in Melbourne
  • Passengers will be taken to designated quarantine facilities
  • Thousands of Australians are still stranded in India's coronavirus lockdown

She said while the journey has been emotional, she would remain "indebted to the good samaritans” who organised the flight at such short notice.

“Very-very grateful to Simon Quinn, Dr (Jagvinder Singh) Virk and the Australiana and the Indian governments for all their dedication, hard work and assistance,” said Ms Priyani.

Valerie Volpato
Valerie Volpato with a crew member in hazmat suit.
Supplied

'Best flight of my life'

Overwhelmed with emotions on returning home, Valerie Volpato, a Sydney-based intensive care nurse, said it was by far the “best flight” of her life.

“Everything that’s super delightfully and cosmically amazing. The children and the baby talk, the cries were an orchestral synchronised soundscape of entertainment,” said Ms Volpato.

Following Australian requirements, the group will now have to spend the next 14 days in quarantine at a designated accommodation.

Expressing his relief, Melbourne-based banking manager, Munish Chopra said he was glad that they had all finally made it home, but added that their journey was far from over.

“I know the next few days in quarantine are also going to be difficult, in particular, for those travelling with children. But right now I am just thanking my stars that I live in Melbourne and at the end of these two weeks, I will be back in the safety of my home and in the company of my loved ones,” said Mr Chopra.

Australians travelling home
A picture of the plane showing passengers and teh crew members in hazmat suits.
Supplied

But for many other passengers like Ms Volpato, the next step would be to find a way to return to their home states.

"Yeah, that's the next thing on my mind now. There's a Whatsapp group for Sydney residents where we will explore ways to reach our final destination," said Ms Volpato.

The rescue operation was spearheaded by Simon Quinn, an Australian expat living in New Delhi alongside Sydney-based Dr Jagvinder Singh Virk, the chairman of the India Australia Strategic Alliance, who was streamlining the process from Australia.

Together they reached out to charter companies to organise an aircraft and to set up an online ticketing system for the passengers.

Dr Virk
Dr Jagvinder Singh Virk, the chairman of the India Australia Strategic Alliance.
Supplied

Expressing his happiness at the flight's "timely touchdown", Mr Virk said the operation was nothing short of a mission.

I am overwhelmed. The thank-yous from passengers are just unstoppable. It feels like we are all part of one big family and our loved ones have finally returned home

He added that the last few days have restored his faith in the “power and ability of the common man.”

“There is nothing that you can’t achieve once you set your heart on it. This whole thing has been a result of the determination and hard work of a group of people," said Mr Virk.

"And of course this would not have been possible without the support of the government of the two countries and the Australian High Commission, in particular, that helped us get the approvals for the flight and travel passes for the passengers."

The organisers claim there will be at least four more flights out of India in coming days to evacuate thousands of other Australians who remain trapped in India, as the country grapples to contain the virus.

"We will not stop until each one of you makes it home and that's my promise to all those who are still in India," said Mr Virk.

Australians travelling home
More charter flights are expected to fly out of India in the coming days.
Supplied

Natalie, a yoga enthusiast stranded in a motel in Goa in western India, said she is still waiting for the Australian government to organise a repatriation flight.

“I am glad these people have made it home safely. But I still want our government to organise and send a repatriation flight just like other countries are sending for their citizens stranded abroad,” said Natalie.

“I still can’t seem to put my faith on these private charter flights,” she added.

The Australian High Commission in India maintains it is actively exploring different ways to enable Australians in India to return home, including commercial non-scheduled options. 

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the Federal Government's website. Symptoms can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

If you develop symptoms within 14 days of returning from overseas, you should call to seek medical attention.

If you don’t have symptoms but you have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you should also call to seek medical attention.

If you believe you may need to get tested, call your doctor, don’t visit. Or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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