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Eight flights bring stranded Britons back from Sharm el-Sheikh

Eight flights have left Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Britain with 1,400 stranded holidaymakers on board.

The first passengers arrived back in the UK to Gatwick at 4.25pm followed by seven other aircraft throughout the day.

Around 4,000 Brits were initially expected to be flown home but the other 21 scheduled flights were cancelled by the Egyptian authorities, with some planes forced to turn around in mid-air.

Thomson Airways said that "due to a last-minute change in Egyptian government restrictions" it could only operate two flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK today.

Customers were not able to take any hold luggage with them on any of the flights. It will be brought back to the UK separately for security purposes.

This caused further problems as Egypt's civil aviation minister said the volume of luggage being left behind by British passengers has disrupted operations at the airport.

In a statement, Hossam Kamal said Sharm el-Sheikh airport was not able to hold more than 120 tons of luggage left behind by tourists to be flown separately to the UK by cargo plane.

"This big volume will affect the smooth operation of the rest of the domestic and international flights," said Mr Kamal.

"Egypt fully co-operates with the British side in the light of the resources of the airport and in accordance with international security regulations."

The UK Government suspended air links on Wednesday after an Airbus 321 operated by Russian airline Metrojet crashed on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board. Militants of the Islamic State terror group in the Sinai Peninsula have claimed that they downed the plane.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said information obtained by UK officials indicated there was a "high probability" that the aircraft was brought down by an explosive device, though he said he was still waiting for final confirmation.

There have been reports that security agencies received intelligence based on intercepted communications between Sinai militants which pointed towards a bomb on the plane. They apparently suspect an explosive device could have been placed inside or on top of luggage by someone with access to the hold just before take-off.

British passenger Nathan Hazelwood, from Kent, said as he arrived at Gatwick: "The British Government was good, they did right if I'm honest.

"The airlines, the embassy and the Egyptian airport security and staff were absolutely useless, and non-existent almost. They made it a bit worse than it needed to be.

"The security in Egypt was shocking. We said that when we landed. People could pay cheap money to be fast-tracked through without being searched.

"It was still going on today. I think it's a joke. We need a bit of a presence out there. I don't think we should be flying out there at all. Security needs to be tightened."

Mr Hazelwood's mother, Maxine Hazelwood, said: "I'm so relieved it's over. It's just been an absolute nightmare. They were hysterical and frightened and there was a total lack of information."

Another passenger Emma Turner, 34, said: "The British Government gave us a form to fill in and said basically please complete this and hopefully your luggage will come back tomorrow by the military, but we don't know.

"I'm so grateful to be back with my family."


From Belfast Telegraph