They emerged into the stark light of Heathrow soon after dawn yesterday – the lucky ones who caught the last British Airways flight out of Kenya for at least a week.
BA064 had just managed to slip under the net before the 10pm deadline set by the Government when it ordered the suspension of all British services to and from the African country because of an "imminent" terrorist threat.
Some bemused, others philosophical, its 228 passengers touched down yesterday morning while an estimated 1,200 other travellers were left stranded in Kenya. Those on the flight spoke of intense security and fretful telephone calls from relatives as they had waited to board in Nairobi.
"My husband phoned us about it ... He was telling us to stay and not to fly. We thought that we were not going to get a flight but when we arrived BA told us there was one more and we would be able to fly. We were glad that we came back. I would be terrified to be there in the current situation," said Margaret Endicott, 41, from south-west London, who had been at a family wedding with her two-year-old son, Matthew.
The suspension of services was ordered on Thursday after Kenyan security forces were placed on high alert when a senior minister revealed intelligence that al-Qa'ida terrorists were planning another attack somewhere in east Africa.
The Department for Transport told airlines that "the threat level to UK civil aviation interests in Kenya has increased to imminent".
Despite the starkness of the warning, many of those who disembarked yesterday appeared unperturbed, inured to the threat. "Since 9-11, terrorism is a threat that we have all come to live with and sadly it's the way of the world these days," said Graeme Patterson, a 45-year-old conservationist living in New York.
Sue Harrison, 58, from London, who was returning from a business trip, said: "It's life these days. It's a way of life, we have to be philosophical otherwise we would not travel anywhere and then we would just be giving in to the terrorists. There was quite a lot of security at the airport – an enormous amount."
Olive Wood, 73, from Caterham, Surre, said: "We just checked in and we weren't told anything. I would rather not have known that there were terrorist threats. I cannot see the point. There's no point in getting stressed about it."
The British flights were cancelled days after at least 34 people died, including two Britons, and up to 200 were injured in suicide car bombings on three residential compounds in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.
The planes were grounded amid fears that a terrorist may be planning a missile attack on British aircraft. Yesterday the Kenyan authorities released a photo of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, believed to have been involved in masterminding the August 1998 bomb blast at the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 people.Reuse content