A total of 95 Canadians were stranded on the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos after being disallowed by the local authorities from boarding an Air Canada flight on Sunday afternoon, that could have transported them safely back to their country.
The flight in question left Toronto on Sunday carrying 95 electricians to assist in the Caribbean islands as part of a humanitarian aid mission by the Canadian government, after Hurricane Irma knocked down several electrical grids in the region, plunging the residents of the islands into darkness.
After safely transporting the electricians, the plane stayed behind to bring back the Canadians who were vacationing on the island when the Category 5 hurricane made landfall. According to the Air Canada authorities, they had received confirmations that “the charter flight would be authorized” to fly back with the tourists who were stranded on the island, CBC reported.
Hence, they had no clue as to why the local law enforcement would not allow the tourists to board the flight. The flight was scheduled to depart the islands' primary international airport at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday but never took off.
"We are actively working with local partners to resolve the situation. The government is currently raising this issue at high levels," Austin Jean, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, told CBC.
Richard Couët from Montreal, whose daughter Geneviève went on a vacation to the Caribbean Islands and was forced to ride out the storm was one of the Canadians who were not allowed to board the rescue plane. "That's a little ridiculous," Richard said. "Let them leave. They're tourists, they're going to have to leave anyway and the plane is sitting there empty. They're frustrated, they're disappointed, they're shocked."
He added that his daughter had barricaded herself inside her room in the vacation resort, blocking its windows with mattresses and pieces of wood she scavenged from the hotel grounds, as the hurricane played out outside. Geneviève had contacted her father stating that they were banned from leaving the islands due to security reasons.
However, Johanne Perron, another Canadian who is currently stuck on the island, just like Geneviève, believes that the reason might be political instead. Perron told CBC that people, who were under the impression that they were going to be rescued, were forced to wait in the heat outside the airport only to have to turn back to their resort after two hours and spend the night there.
Nevertheless, the group has not given up hope, as Perron informed that "the good news is that the plane is still grounded here and apparently not leaving without us."
Isabelle Arthur, spokesperson for Air Canada confirmed this fact. "The plane is still in place. Air Canada continues its efforts with island authorities to bring the Canadians back to the country," she said. However, for now, it remains a mystery to both the airlines as well as Global Affairs as to why local authorities would prohibit Canadians from boarding the flight that can take them back to their home.
Air Canada became embroiled in a bit of a controversy in June this year, when they refused to let a Canadian family of five board one of their flights, despite having eight empty seats on it. The family, which had planned to spend their vacation in Sri Lanka, ended up paying an additional $4000 to repurchase their tickets for the same flight the following day.