A father's struggle to get son Joe home
Since schoolboy Joe Thompson was struck by a fear of flying his parents, Tony and Pauline, have made Herculean efforts to get him back home to Weston-super-Mare.
The family had been living in Abu Dhabi, and were due to fly home on July 1 when Joe's sudden problem caused a rethink. Mrs Thompson and Joe's sister returned and as Mr Thompson's diary of events explains, the following weeks have been full of frustations...
"August 6: First meeting with VW Middle East in Dubai. Offer of help which included the possibility of two VW Touareg 4x4s and two/three drivers to take us all the way to our front door in Weston-super-Mare. Amazing.
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"August 7-8: Continuing uncertainty about what information the Saudi Arabia embassy in Abu Dhabi want before issuing our visas to transit Saudi Arabia. Was told they wanted exact details of the route and exit point, a Jordan entry visa and a letter from VW explaining what was happening. The VW option would also require visas for the drivers involved. I contact the PA to the Saudi Arabia Ambassador in London and ask for further help to unlock the problem because it was a 'chicken and egg' situation. VW could not confirm the route because of information difficulties during Ramadan and the Saudis would not issue the visas without the information.
"August 9: Intervention from HRH Prince Mohammed, Saudi Ambassador in London, who instructed that we were to be issued visas as his 'personal guests'. I was requested to attend the Saudi embassy in Abu Dhabi – we had the visas within 30 minutes.
"August 14: Meeting with VW Middle East in Dubai. We were told that proposed road/ferry route via Egypt to Europe could not go ahead because of the worsening security situation in Egypt and their road option was withdrawn. However, they offered to continue to look for other ways to help. This was a major setback, and so I decided to make our own way back. I revisited travel agents and bus companies and rang a lot of people.
"August 15: Informed that VW, the German Medical Centre in Sharjah and Lufthansa were working together for another (final) flight option that would involve sedation and a doctor accompanying Joe on the flight. Joe horrified at the prospect of another flight attempt.
"August 16: I found a bus company in Al Ain, where we are staying, that could take us through Saudi Arabia to Jordan. The bus would not leave until August 24, after the Eid Al Fitr holiday that follows Ramadan. My plan is to get a bus to Amman in Jordan, and then another from Amman to the port of Haifa in Israel from where we could get a ferry to Europe. I then found a bus driver who agreed to take us all the way from Al Ain to Jordan in a GMC 4x4 for the sum of 2000 UAE Dirhams – roughly £350. A good result. Arranged that we would leave at 1pm on Saturday August 18. Joe seemed pleased with this.
"August 17: We packed our suitcases and got ready to leave. The same day I was contacted by Willis, the marine insurers in London who had found us two places on the bulk carrier Katerina Warrior which is due to stop in Suez on August 24, with an onward European destination which will not be known until she reaches Suez, but probably Greece or the Ukraine. So I accepted the offer and changed my route to the Red Sea port of Duba in Saudi Arabia. I knew that a ferry from Duba to Sufaga in Egypt was likely to run after Eid on August 23, and the crossing time was eight hours, so there was a good chance we could reach Suez in time. I arranged for our driver to head to Duba. Joe seemed happy with arrangements.
"In the evening, Joe developed a major anxiety attack and said he could not travel anywhere.
"August 18: Joe had another massive panic attack, hyperventilated and lost the use of one of his hands as the blood supply was diverted to his breathing, and said he could not face the long journey. I cancelled and sought medical advice. He has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder which is much wider than a fear of flying. I am sure that all the changes, uncertainty and security problems of the past 50 days have taken their toll.
"Met with a doctor in Sharjah. We thought we would try one more time to get Joe quickly back to Europe by a Lufthansa plane under effective sedation and accompanied by a doctor. The plan was for Joe to take prescribed medication leading up to a flight from Dubai to Frankfurt in the early hours of August 21 where his mother would meet us on a flight from London. We were going to travel back from Frankfurt by train.
"August 20: Joe had another anxiety attack. I realised that it was time to stop putting him through all the anguish and to seek longer term medical intervention in the UAE.
"August 21: I have arranged for Joe's treatment to start in Dubai on August 25 and for Joe to start back at Al Ain English Speaking School on September 4.
"August 25: Joe's Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has started. I am looking for a job, and hopefully, over time, Joe will recover and we can head off on the big bird back home."