Scuba divers' holiday heartbreak

A PARTY of scuba dive enthusiasts today told of their bitter disappointment after their once in a lifetime trip to Egypt was cancelled following the collapse of one of the UK's biggest tour operators.

A PARTY of scuba dive enthusiasts today told of their bitter disappointment after their once in a lifetime trip to Egypt was cancelled following the collapse of one of the UK's biggest tour operators.

The 11-strong group from Ipswich only discovered that their £1,500 holiday had been shelved when they tried to check in at Gatwick airport yesterday morning.

XL Leisure Group, the airline they had been due to fly with, declared bankruptcy just three hours earlier, with bosses citing rising fuel costs and the credit crunch for its sudden demise.

The bombshell has affected tens of thousands of people nationwide.

The group, from Galaxsea Divers based in Felixstowe Road, initially attempted to secure flights with another airline.

However, with a glut of holidaymakers desperately scrambling for seats, the task proved impossible and they have instead returned to Ipswich.

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Theresa Webb, group leader, said: “It's too early to say whether we will get our money back but most are more worried about losing a holiday.

“This has been in the planning for a year and it's a pretty amazing trip, a real once in a lifetime holiday.

“When we first found out, we were quite positive, thinking we could get another flight today or tomorrow, but as soon as we were told to go home we realised that was it.”

The group, who booked with Blue O2, had been due to spend a week living on board a luxury boat and diving in some of the best waters in the Red Sea.

Another member of the party, Monica Vearer, 55, said the episode had left her disillusioned.

“It was the trip of a lifetime and it's been ruined,” she said.

“We were due to visit a part of the red sea none of us had ever been to before. We'd expected to see sharks, mantas and dolphins.

“We had been up since 3am and started travelling at 4am so it had been pretty hectic and we were all exhausted - and we don't even get a holiday at the end of it all.”

XL was still taking bookings on Thursday night, but shortly before 3am yesterday it was announced that efforts to secure a rescue package had failed and administrators had been called in.

Chief executive Phil Wyatt said he was “devastated” at the company's collapse and apologised to his customers and employees.

Have you been affected by the collapse of XL? Call The Evening Star newsdesk on 01473 324788 or e-mail starnews@eveningstar.co.uk

The East of England Co-operative Society would like to confirm that it does not operate the Co-operative Travel branches in Ipswich and Felixstowe. They are only tenants.

The Ipswich and Felixstowe Co-operative Travel branches are run by The Co-operative Group.