Quebec school board spends $280,000 to bring home students stranded in Guatemala

MONTREAL — After struggling for days to secure a flight home for a group of students on a humanitarian mission to Guatemala, a Quebec school board paid $280,000 for a chartered flight that scooped them out of the Central American country minutes before its border closed.

The 45 high school students and five teachers were on the last plane out of the Guatemala City airport Monday night, Helene Dumais, spokeswoman for the Commission scolaire des Grandes-Seigneuries, said Tuesday.

They landed Tuesday morning at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport, she said, less than one week after the group left to work in a centre for disabled people in the Guatemalan village of San Juan La Laguna.

Dumais said the cost of the flight, which comes to $5,600 a person, wasn’t a concern. “The order was to get them out as fast as possible,” she said in an interview. “So we did what was necessary.”

Reuters reported Monday that Guatemala planned to close its borders for two weeks in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on its territory. Guatemala has reported one death from the novel coronavirus.

Dumais said Guatemala wasn’t considered an at-risk country for COVID-19, so the school board and parents let the group leave last Thursday. But while the students were en route to Central America, the situation back home worsened dramatically and provincial governments advised against international travel.

She said the board tried “many, many” attempts to bring them back on a commercial flight in time, but it proved impossible. “We went from plan A to plan Z.”

Finally, on Monday afternoon, the board called the Montreal-area chartered airline company, Nolinor Aviation. Company president Marco Prud’Homme said, “every minute counted.”

Although his core business is chartering last-minute flights, he said domestic travel is always easier than having to secure authorization to fly over several countries — the United States, Mexico and Guatemala — and to obtain permission to land at a foreign airport.

Finally, after a refuelling stop in Miami, the plane landed in Guatemala, picked up the students and their teachers, and left the airport about 45 minutes before the border was set to close at midnight.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau Liberals face confidence vote over proposed anticorruption committee

Bloc Quebecois plans to support the Conservative motion

A bottle of hand sanitizer is seen in Vancouver on October 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Experts say counterfeit hand sanitizer recall at Dollarama is a lesson for retailers

Fraudulent version may not be effective at killing bacteria and viruses

George Orme, owner of Jacques-Orme Funeral Home, and Dr. Henry George are seen with the city’s first ambulance at the Red Deer Exhibition around 1925. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Archives)
Michael Dawe: Red Deer’s first ambulances were also used as hearses

There has been a great deal of media attention in recent weeks… Continue reading

Manitoba skip Tracy Fleury releases a rock as they play Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. Fleury has brought on veteran skip Sherry Middaugh to serve as coach of the Winnipeg-based team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Team Tracy Fleury adds longtime skip Sherry Middaugh as coach

Previously coached at the U18 and U21 levels

The main entrance to the Museums Island and the Neue Museum, left, in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. A large number of art works and artifacts at some of Berlin’s best-known museums were smeared with a liquid by an unknown perpetrator or perpetrators earlier this month, police said Wednesday. The ‘numerous’ works in several museums at the Museum Island complex, a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of the German capital that is one of the city’s main tourist attractions, were targeted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Oct. 3, police said. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Over 60 exhibits damaged at Berlin museums, motive a mystery

Surveillance camera footage doesn’t show obvious signs of anyone applying the liquid

FILE - This Aug. 13, 2020 photo shows a logo for Netflix on a remote control in Portland, Ore. Netflix Inc. (NFLX) on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 reported third-quarter net income of $790 million. The Los Gatos, California-based company said it had profit of $1.74 per share. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
Netflix reports a summer slump in subscriber growth

Added 28 million subscribers in the first nine months of the year

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford leaps over a challenge by PSG's Presnel Kimpembe during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Most Read