Santa makes wishes come true for very special kids
Santa Claus has made a surprise early trip to Northern Ireland to make the festive dreams of a special group of young children come true.
The jolly figure isn't due to touch down on the rooftops of thousands of homes across the province until the early hours of Monday. But he was happy to spread his magical Christmas joy early after The Make A Wish Foundation persuaded the crew of a Flybe plane to track him down as he was doing some sleighing practice in the skies.
Nineteen children and their families were joined by UTV's Julian Simmons as they boarded an aircraft at the George Best Belfast City Airport on Sunday morning and took off in the hope of meeting Santa on his travels.
And it wasn't long until the captain of the Flybe plane, Edwin Boggs, spotted Santa's famous red suit in the distance and caught up to tell him about the special passengers.
Matthew Smylie (6) from Waringstown, recalled the exciting moment Santa arrived.
"It was brilliant. There was a wee bump when Santa landed on the plane and then he came in with a big sack of presents!" he said.
Jody Burns (4) from Carnmoney, was delighted with the teddy bear Santa gave her but said she was keeping the present wrapped until she got home.
Michelle and Mark Bannon from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, were on board with their son Niall.
"It was a lovely, stress-free experience for Niall; he really enjoyed every minute," Mark said.
Sam Mercer, whose four-year- old daughter Rachel had just been on her first flight, agreed it was a brilliant morning.
The Make A Wish Foundation had asked Flybe to find Santa Claus so the children and their families could personally pass on their Christmas wish lists.
Andrea Hayes from Flybe said the challenge to find Santa was one "we just couldn't turn down".
"We contacted air traffic control who confirmed that Santa was often sighted doing practice reindeer runs in the days before Christmas, so we decided to take a chance on Sunday that we would be in luck," she said.
The aim of the Make A Wish Foundation is to enrich the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions through its wish-granting work and helps wishes come true for 50 Northern Ireland children each year.