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Senator Steve Daines, R-Montana, and staff facilitated numerous emergency repatriation flights for US citizens trapped abroad amid the growing coronavirus pandemic – including a last-minute escape from Africa that puts highlighting the risks to the thousands of Americans still trapped far from home, Fox News has learned.
The pandemic has infected more than 400,000 people worldwide and killed more than 20,000 people. International bottlenecks have led stranded travelers to reach out to legislators to cut red tape, often with just a few minutes to spare.
Pastor Mark Arbaugh, who had been stuck up in Lima, Peru, told Fox News early Friday morning that he was one of those fortunate escapees largely due to his native senator.
“Senator Daines’ office has been very helpful to us,” Arbaugh said in a text message to Fox News while on his red-eye repatriation flight to Washington, DC He was traveling with several Montana Tech students .
“Wally, from his office, put in long hours. Wally worked hard to make sure that my group of 4 and our new friends who were stranded from Atlanta in the same hotel with us got the same manifesto,” added Arbaugh. .
Arbaugh said he had never met Daines or anyone in his office before, but had worked closely with them during the ordeal. As for the situation in Peru, Arbaugh observed that “many people will find it difficult to get out” now that the national quarantine has been extended until April 12. But, said Arbaugh, he was anxious to return to the country when the situation stabilizes.
Meanwhile, Isaac Sturgeon, 31, told Fox News that his come back Morocco arrived in the United States on Saturday evening as military vehicles were preparing to apply a strict curfew and to suspend international travel indefinitely because of the virus.
“I just wanted to be back on American soil,” Sturgeon told Fox News, who was traveling for skydiving lessons. “I registered at the embassy … There was a lot of silence for a few days; I don’t think they were used to that kind of big phone calls and people at the doors.”
WATCH BELOW: VIDEO OF THE ESTURGEON FLIGHT HOUSE
It was then that Sturgeon declared that his father “had decided to try to contact Steve Daines directly”. Thereafter, said Sturgeon, things moved quickly.
The Daines office contacted the State Department to charter a flight for the Americans when the commercial flights were canceled. Once this was approved, Daines made the request to reserve a seat for Isaac.
“I am sure all the pressure has helped a lot,” said Sturgeon, referring to the senator’s awareness.
Before the flight, the U.S. Embassy “emailed me and told me to arrive at the airport between 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., flights were leaving; go to the front counter and show them your passport and they’ll assign you a seat on one of these planes, “said Sturgeon.
At the airport, Strugeon said tents were set up by the U.S. Embassy to assist travelers who needed to sleep at the airport so as not to miss a flight.
Strugeon received what he called “wonderful” help not only from Daines and his staff – “Liz was great,” and Daines himself was “kind and humble,” he said – but also of British Airways, which flew it from Marrakech to London.
“I congratulate them,” said Sturgeon of the British Airways crew. “Excellent spirit, people and staff on the plane. There were about 150 Americans on the plane. The airline staff said they did not know they would pick us up until 5 am this morning. Great spirit, free snacks. “
For those who are still stuck abroad, Strugeon had some advice: “You have to get horny, talk to people, be sociable to find out what the word is.”
“Especially in a foreign country, you have to take charge, be hyperproductive and know what’s going on,” he said. “You have to take care of your own life in a crisis; even in America, you have to have common sense – not everyone can help you. Government cannot always be there for you – – you are not as special as you think. There are 350 million Americans that our government has to deal with. “
At the same time, he said he had benefited immensely throughout the ordeal by connecting with another American from Colorado and joining a Facebook group full of other American citizens in Africa.
In one Instagram post, Strugeon sounded a note of celebration in the air: “After an Evac flight out of North Africa 48 hours before Boder closed, …… im Home. Thanks to Senator Daines and staff member Liz , my family, the Facebook groups, and the incredibly warm-hearted British Airline people who didn’t even know they were picking us up until 5 am this morning! Hundreds of Americans were able to come home Last but not least, thank you President TRUMP for keeping your car among the pathetic critics and the puppet media! I LOVE AMERICA …. STAY QUICKLY. “
The other Montanans who worked with the Daines office to secure their release include Dale Brevik, who was stranded on an expedition cruise ship after being refused to land in Argentina, along with Matt Vincent and his family, who had been in Ecuador.
“I am so happy to hear that Pastor Mark and the Montana Tech students will return to Montana today and wish them a safe journey home,” Daines told Fox News. He added that he was happy to have “helped” Isaac returns to the United States after being trapped abroad during this period. “
“I wish Isaac and his family good luck, and I look forward to hearing about their reunion. Welcome home, Isaac!” “I continue to work 24 hours a day to bring other Montanans home stranded abroad.”
Peru has posed many significant challenges to Americans abroad. In an extreme case, a 33-year-old American woman who no longer has life-saving drugs to treat her autoimmune disease finally boarded a return flight Wednesday after being stranded in Peru for about 10 days, but Hundreds of other American citizens became stranded after the South American nation closed its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Anna, who requested that her last name not be made public due to confidentiality concerns related to her medical condition, after flying to Cusco. .
Andrew News’s Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press of Fox News contributed to this report.