Passengers spoke of their relief at escaping the “living hell” engulfing Libya as they arrived in Britain on a Government-chartered plane.
A total of 79 people, including Britons and Canadians, touched down at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex on board Flight YU005 following an arduous mission to escape the uprising.
Among them was Iftikhar Ulhak, 59, a chemical engineer who lives in Wimbledon, south London, who described chaotic scenes at Tripoli airport as people tried to flee.
Speaking at Gatwick’s South Terminal, he said: “There are so many people wanting to leave and Tripoli airport is simply not catered for it. There were people camping out, making makeshift tents. They had bags strewn all over the place. There was no system. It was so overwhelming for the Libyan authorities.
“They just cannot cope. There were women, children, old people. It was terrible getting into the airport. It took us four hours despite the fact that the British Embassy staff were there.”
Talking about the scenes on the streets, he said: “There were a lot of gunshots at night. Today I saw tanks move in and some young soldiers probably loyal to the regime guarding the airport.
“The streets are quite deserted though. It gives quite an eerie feeling. Where I was staying in a compound, there was bustling activity but this morning there was not a soul to be seen.”
Despite widespread criticism of the British efforts to repatriate people, Mr Ulhak praised the authorities in general, saying they were “very good”. However, he added: “The phones in the main consular office were not working and that was the main criticism because it meant not being able to contact them and find out when flights were leaving.”
David Smith, from Perthshire, Scotland, said: “The inside of the airport was terrible. It was difficult to move through. We were lucky to have British Embassy staff there who did an excellent job getting us through there.”
Another passenger, Indian oil worker Sanchin Nike, 39 who lives in Calgary, Canada, described Tripoli as a “living hell” and told how he felt scared venturing out after dusk.