90 vacationers, dead silence – my bizarre flight into the fire hell of Rhodes

Tuesday early morning. I’ve packed and rush to the airport. It goes to Rhodes, where villages are still being evacuated today, on the eighth day of the fire. But tourists also rush with me – right into the fire area; not to report, but to relax and go on vacation.

What thoughts accompany your journey? Is vacation in the crisis area possible?

The plane, Ryanair flight FR6435 from Weeze to Rhodes leaves early. Boarding is at 8:50 a.m. and we take to the skies at 9:20 a.m. Two places were still free when booking on Monday afternoon. I expect a full plane and many passengers at the gate. In fact, instead of the expected 190 passengers, only 80 to 90 arrived at the departure gate. Because of the proximity to the Netherlands, an estimated half came from the neighboring country.

“Where am I flying to?” asks the vacationer at the gate and gets on the Rhodes plane

“Where am I flying to?” asks a young lady who is visiting her friend who is already on Rhodes for a holiday together. She was assured that the flames were 50 kilometers from her hotel, she explains. “But what are 50 kilometers there with the winds and this fire?” She doubts and comes to the conclusion that she would not necessarily be annoyed if the flight was canceled shortly before departure.

A Dutch couple has fewer worries. The journey goes to Faliraki, the Rhodes version of Ballermann far north of the island and far from the fire. Many vacationers, especially the younger ones, give Faliraki as their destination this morning.

It is already noticeable in the terminal and also in the shuttle bus to the plane that, with the exception of the younger ones, everyone seems unusually skeptical. The usual loud shouting and laughter that usually accompanies holiday flights is missing.

The flight is smooth. The passengers have moved around in the half-empty plane so that individual families or groups of friends can sit together. The cancellations made seat booking obsolete.

When approaching the island, tourists press their faces to the fire and stare spellbound at the fire front

But even among themselves there is apparently little need for communication. When approaching Diagoras Airport on Rhodes, the pilot makes a large loop. Literally half the island, the south-eastern part, is covered in smoke. First it can be seen from the right side of the plane, then, after the loop, also by the passengers on the left row.

Everyone presses their face to the window and stares spellbound at the kilometer-wide fire front that runs through the middle of the island like a border fence. It’s dead quiet on the plane. Most of the passengers sat in their seats with their heads down or asleep for the entire flight, but in the face of the fire, everyone is even calmer now. Only occasionally can conversations be heard with a view of the large clouds of smoke over the island.

A specific fire announcement, as reported from other flights, does not come from the pilot. The fire is not mentioned in any announcement or announcement by the flight attendants. Food and drinks are sold, the safety rules are communicated as usual in barely understandable, quickly spoken words. “Last chance to go to the toilet before landing”. A routine flight? All OK? Maybe not.

After landing in Rhodes, Ryanair sends me a bizarre email

The surprise comes after landing on Rhodes on time. I turn off the phone’s flight mode and the first thing I see is an email from Ryanair. It arrived in the mailbox at 10.41 a.m. German time, when I was already in the air. I am kindly informed that I can rebook the flight free of charge, like all other passengers who are booked to Rhodes from July 25th to 27th.

I watch my fellow passengers upon arrival. Happy vacationers look different. Skeptical, they rush to the exit or to the baggage claim. What they all have in common is a wince the moment they step out of the air-conditioned zone of the airport building into the sweltering air of the current heat wave. Tourism staff are waiting for most to pick them up. Others grab a rental car and leave.

Vacationers are flown in even though the booked hotel has already burned down

“Everything seems to be going normally,” I ask a helpful woman at the rental car counter. “Normal? Yesterday morning there were still tourism entrepreneurs who, for example, cheerfully flew in their package travelers from Austria, although the booked hotel burned down on Saturday. And then? “Then it’s off to emergency shelters, or, which has also been the case here, people rent cars just to sleep in them at the airport parking lot.”

To all appearances none of the travelers who flew with me to Rhodes were in such a situation. You have booked all accommodations in the north of the island.

Well, in the afternoon, for the first time since the fire has been burning, the typical Canadair firefighting planes appear in the airspace over the northern regions of the island and get their fire-fighting water from the sea off the northern beaches all the way up to the island’s capital Rhodes. Fear is already spreading among the island’s permanent residents as the fire continues to burn.

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