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Northern Ireland fans' heartbreak as flight trouble means they miss historic Euro 2016 clash in France

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland fans have been left heartbroken after flight trouble from Belfast means they will miss today's historic Euro 2016 knockout in Paris.

The Green and White Army have been well represented throughout Northern Ireland's campaign in France.

And having secured tickets to the knockout clash against Wales on Saturday in Paris fans scurried to get flights and accomodation.

 But the "once in a lifetime opportunity has been halted for fans who were caught up in confusion around an easyJet flight from Belfast International.

Peter Hunniford from Portadown had booked with a friend to get the 8pm flight to London Gatwick to meet a friend to drive to Paris.

On arrival to the airport they were told there was an hour delay to the flight. But when they called at around 10.20opm they were told the flight was cancelled.

He said: "We were standing at the gate about 40 minutes and not boarding. Then there were rumours that the flight was going to be canelled. It was announced that it was cancelled and everybody must make their way back to check in lounge."

Around 200 passengers made their way back to the desk.

"There was just chaos. Passengers were quite irate, annoyed and nobody knew that happened."

Then 30 minutes later they were told the flight was going ahead and they must urgently make their way back to the gate.

He said: "The reason we were given was the plane had run out of flight hours and they had got approval to fly out of hours and we needed to make our way urgently through security to make the plane.

"We got through pretty quickly and I was the last one allowed through security.

About 50 of us got through. We got to the gate to find about 20 or 30 people standing there because they had just shut the doors. They let 20 people in the plane and said no more, they had to depart.

He added: "So were standing with the steps of the plane still attached, the plane just sitting there and we weren't allowed to board."

Peter said a large majority were Northern Ireland fans.

He said: "The police came but were very sympathetic.

If they kept us at the gate, everyone would have got on the plane."

Now he faces the potential costs of hotel cancellations and the disappointment of missing the game.

"It was once in a lifetime opportunity. We spent all day trying to get tickets and got sorted out on Friday.

"We were so excited and then worried about the delay. But we were told to board and then there was just chaos."

In response easyJet said the issue was due to air traffic control restrictions.

In a statement it said: "easyJet can confirm that some passengers booked on flight EZY840 from Belfast International to London Gatwick yesterday, 24 June 2016, did not travel on the flight.

“Due to air traffic control restrictions at Belfast International yesterday it was expected that the flight would need to be cancelled and so our ground agents transferred passengers back through security. However during this time it was confirmed that the flight could depart in a limited time window. As a result unfortunately not all passengers had time to return through security for the departure.

“Passengers who did not travel yesterday were offered overnight accommodation and transfers on to other flights from Belfast this morning.

“We would like to sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

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