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Deputy High Commissioner Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford and his team of five drove 12 hours from Bangalore to Cochin to ensure British nationals could board a charter flight.
Those hoping to fly had been stuck for four weeks across southern India after normal flights were axed as the pandemic escalated.
The Foreign Office team journey took them along the rough and twisty Western Ghats mountain roads – and they were hit with a puncture right right in the heart of Bandipur tiger reserve.
Nearly 400 big cats are understood to roam the reserve, which has the second-biggest tiger population in India and was recently featured in the Sir David Attenborough-narrated documentary Wild Karnataka.
To make matters even more tense, the road runs through the middle of an elephant migration corridor, and the group encountered a female elephant.
Under the blazing sun and with the humidity of the tropical forest rising, the team stood lookout while Mr Pilmore-Bedford raced to change the tyre under the blazing sun and rising humidity of the tropical forest.
He said: “The breakdown was definitely a low point in our journey. But we had so many people counting on us, we couldn’t end up as a tiger’s tiffin.
“Changing tyres isn’t your average diplomatic activity, but there was nothing we weren’t prepared to do to get our people home.”
Once the tyre was changed, they drove on to Cochin and arrived just in time to help the 260 people onto an emergency Foreign Office flight.
Meanwhile, a group of 42 students and teachers from an international school made an eight-hour journey to meet “exhausted” Foreign Office staff member Rajesh Bhaskaran, who had driven 36 hours to rendezvous with them and hand-deliver an emergency travel document so they could fly.
Mr Bhaskaran said: “Though the journey was arduous and riddled with multiple police checkpoints, at the end it was a hugely satisfying experience to help stranded British nationals from remote parts of southern India fly back home safely.”
When the team returned to Bangalore they helped around 400 British travellers get home on a further three charter flights.
One of the passengers, eight-year-old Mayzia Richardson from Derby, did not hide her excitement when she reached the check-in desk. She burst into song, singing A Million Dreams from the hit film The Greatest Showman.
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