Rescue flight brings stranded Aussies home
At least 150 Australian tourists who have been stranded in South America during the coronavirus pandemic arrived safely home last night on-board a special Qantas rescue flight.
The flight was part of a federal government-co-ordinated effort to bring the stranded tourists home.
The 15-hour, 11,600km flight touched down in Melbourne at 7.30pm last night.
Buses were driven straight onto the tarmac to escort the passengers off the flight for transport into quarantine in a Melbourne hotel.
The flight, which was staffed by a volunteer Qantas crew, also contained 20 passengers from New Zealand.
The jet departed Buenos Aires at 2pm local time on Saturday bound for Melbourne.
Passengers reportedly received Anzac biscuits while on flight QF7028.
The passengers were all wearing face masks as they boarded the buses for the journey to the hotel.
Many of the passengers were seen contacting loved ones on their phones as soon as they touched down to let them know they were safely home.
Earlier, one of the pilots who flew the stranded Aussies home paid tribute to his World War II veteran grandfather on Anzac Day.
On his flight deck, Qantas captain Nick Thorne proudly showcased a photograph of the late Keith Thorne, who survived the sinking of SS Somerset and HMAS Canberra, and a kamikaze attack on HMAS Australia.
Captain Alex Passerini, who led the flight, said the crew volunteered to be part of the federal government-co-ordinated effort to bring those stranded home.
Captain Thorne often spent Anzac Day with his grandfather Keith Thorne, a WWII veteran who survived the downing of two ships and a kamikaze attack on HMAS Australia.
But Keith passed away in 2018 at the age of 98.
The last member of the Thorne family to visit Buenos Aires was the Royal Australian Navy's Able Seaman Keith Thorne, who called in there in 1940 when it was a neutral port.
"I'm pretty proud and honoured that 80 years later I'm taking part in a special Qantas flight repatriating 150 Australians and 20 New Zealanders from Buenos Aires to their home on Anzac Day,'' Nick Thorne said.
"To me that's pretty special, because Anzac Day is all about remembering what happened. And I know that my grandfather, he'd be pretty proud of the fact that his grandson is doing something like that on Anzac Day.''
Keith Walter Thorne was born in Mosman, NSW, in November 1919 in the middle of the Spanish 'flu pandemic and served six years with the RAN.
He survived the sinking of the SS Somerset and the HMAS Canberra, and a kamikaze attack on HMAS Australia, which saw him repatriated to Australia for treatment of bad burns suffered when he dragged a fellow crewman to safety from the flames.
His grandson Nick, now aged 32, was always close to his grandad, and the family often spent Anzac Day together.
Nick's maternal grandfather, Raymond Pollard, 92, is a British veteran, and would also commemorate with his grandson and other family members.
Nick said Keith Thorne had shown incredible bravery during the war, and had returned to Australia to live a quiet life as an office clerk, raising three children including Nick's father Anthony.
"I'm very proud of the bravery that he showed because he was always a humble and simple man," he said.
"He left his memoirs and when you read these memoirs, what he did was beyond brave.''
With Anzac Day public services cancelled this year, Nick had intended to stand outside his Melbourne home with a candle to honour the sacrifice of veterans, before he was assigned the Buenos Aires repatriation flight.
A former army cadet, he joined the Qantas group at age 22, and is now a second officer on the Dreamliner 787 international service.
His wife Kathleen is also a Qantas pilot, and works as a first officer on the domestic service. They're expecting their first child, a son, in June.
Qantas has strong historical links to the armed forces - it was founded in 1920 by two Gallipoli veterans, Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh, and some of its planes were seconded to the RAAF in WWII. To this day, pilots wear a tiepin featuring the Australian coat of arms.
Originally published as Rescue flight brings stranded Aussies home