Fandi's football group stuck at airport

Children from Fandi Ahmad's F-17 Academy stranded in Istanbul's Antalya Airport.
Children from Fandi Ahmad's F-17 Academy stranded in Istanbul's Antalya Airport. PHOTO: SIA HWEE MIAN
A group shot of the academy contingent at Changi Airport before they departed for Istanbul.
A group shot of the academy contingent at Changi Airport before they departed for Istanbul. PHOTO: F-17 ACADEMY

21 - part of former S'pore player's academy due to transit in Istanbul - had flight diverted to Antalya

Consultant Geraldine Loh was at home in Istanbul watching a movie when she got a message from another Singaporean that there were tanks on the Bosphorus Bridge.

She is on a WhatsApp group with more than 20 other Singaporeans living in Turkey. She switched between channels and watched the attempted coup unfold on television.

Then came the fighter jets. "They were flying very low. I had to close my windows," said the 54-year-old. "It was too close for comfort."

Yesterday morning, Ms Loh went to the local grocer to stock up on water and food. "I didn't know whether this thing was over," she said.

"I wanted to make sure there was enough water and food."

Nearly 700km away, a group of 21 children, parents and coaches from former Singapore footballer Fandi Ahmad's F-17 Academy, were left stranded at Turkey's Antalya Airport after their flight was diverted.

They left Singapore at 10pm on Friday for the Gothia Cup, a youth tournament in Sweden. They had been due to transit in Istanbul. During the flight, they were informed by the captain of the attempted coup. Their Turkish Airline flight TK55 was diverted to Antalya.

 

There are two coaches, six parents and 13 children aged eight to 14 years old. Three of the kids are American passport holders.

The group arrived at around 3am local time (8am Singapore time) yesterday and were greeted by chaotic scenes. Due to overcrowding, the Singaporean party was later moved to another terminal.

The packed airport appeared unprepared for the thousands of marooned travellers who were redirected to the coastal city.

Only a few cafes were open, with long snaking queues for restrooms. It took almost 10 hours before food and drinks were distributed.

There was no sign of airport personnel on the ground and little guidance from the local authorities, Ms Sia Hwee Mian, who had accompanied her son Zachery Lee, told The Sunday Times. She added: "There's no information forthcoming and we have no idea what to do."

Her irritation was shared by fellow parents. Madam Radhika Radhakrishnan was with her husband Raveen Kumar Thedj and their son Rayan.

She said: "There isn't any official communication channel here. Only loads of people from different flights sitting around."

The Sunday Times understands that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Singapore embassy in Ankara are in touch with the F-17 team and are providing consular assistance. The academy's director Nabil Yusoff, who is in Singapore, said the team might have to stay overnight at the airport. "Everyone is telling us not to leave."

In a statement on F-17's Facebook page, Fandi said: "We are constantly liaising with relevant agencies as best we can to get the boys out of Turkey. To the families of our kids, parents and coaches, we have to remain calm and clear-headed."

The MFA has urged Singaporeans to avoid non-essential travel to Turkey for the time being. Those who are in Turkey should stay indoors, monitor the news closely and e-register with MFA.

Turkish expatriates living in Singapore said the coup came as a shock, and strongly condemned it.

Language teacher Neslihan Tosun, 29, who has been living here for seven years, said: "I was never expecting this. I hope everything will be settled peacefully as soon as possible."

Mr Gokhan Dorum, who has been living in Singapore for more than 15 years and runs his own firm providing education and trade services, called the coup "unacceptable".

The permanent resident, who is also secretary general of the Singapore Turkey Business Association, hopes the instability will not shake investors' trust in the country.

At an event yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, referring also to Thursday's attack in Nice, said these incidents showed "how important it is to look after the peace and harmony, security and stability of our home here in Singapore", and that Singaporeans should do this together.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'Fandi's football group stuck at airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe