2 Dozen Easter Island Residents to Return Home After COVID-19 Strands Them in Tahiti for Months
After their airline stopped running the route they needed to get home, 25 people were stuck on Tahiti with no way out
Their reasons for traveling to Tahiti from Easter Island prior to the coronavirus pandemic varied, but the more than two dozen people stranded for six-plus months on the French Polynesian island shared a common goal: they just wanted to go home.
This week, they finally will, thanks to the French state department, which will send a French military plane to make the 2,600-mile trek, the Associated Press reported.
“I’m so happy!!!” Kissy Baude, the unofficial leader of the group of stranded citizens, told the outlet. “We are very happy and relieved to finally be able to return home and to know that the Tahitians stranded in Rapa Nui will also return home in the same mission.”
Twenty-five people, including seven children, have been stuck on Tahiti since March after COVID-19 forced LATAM airlines to cancel their flights back home, according to the AP. The visitors were there for a variety of reasons, including work, vacation and medical procedures.
The airline typically runs a regular return route from Santiago to Easter Island and then on to Tahiti, but the route was suspended in March due to the virus. No other airlines offer a similar route, and LATAM reportedly has no timeline for getting it back up and running.
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The group — which includes a young mother who recently gave birth without her husband — had reportedly begged authorities for help for months, and even tried reaching out to Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, as Easter Island is a territory of Chile.
“I can’t cry anymore. My heart is cold,” said Mihinoa Terakauhau Pont, 21, who gave birth to a son days ago on her own.
Pont previously told the AP she traveled to Tahiti in January to visit her first son, who was staying on a nearby island with her parents. She was scheduled to go back in March.
According to the AP, the French state department is stepping in to handle the six-hour flight following a request from Chilean authorities.
Baude said that the group will undergo a 14-day quarantine at a health center when they arrive back on Easter Island, a remote island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean that’s best known for large head sculptures called moai.
Meanwhile, the flight cancellations also stranded about 15 Tahitian residents on Easter Island, and the rescue mission will bring them back home as well.