Volcanic ash buries dreams of French trip for Camden school

Posted April 18, 2010, at 7:59 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Volcanic ash billowing above Europe has cast a dark cloud over student groups from Maine hoping to spend their school vacation week overseas.

A busload of 24 juniors and seniors and four chaperones from Camden Hills Regional High School made it as far as Kennebunk Friday before being notified their flight to France was canceled. That was after a roller coaster of a Thursday when the trip was called off, then on again. Students, parents and teachers were riveted to news reports of the Icelandic volcano that has spewed ash across Europe.

The Camden students were at a rest area in Kennebunk when French teacher Don Mann received the bad news from another Camden High teacher who was taking students to Spain Friday. Mann said the Spain trip was not canceled because that group’s flight path was not threatened by the ash on Friday. According to The Associated Press, however, at least seven Spanish airports were closed on Sunday, though authorities there hoped some of them would reopen soon.

“I told them the trip was canceled, and they thought I was kidding,” said Mann. “Then the tears started.”

The trip to France was canceled because of a closure at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Explorica, a travel agency that specializes in student

trips, told Mann the earliest Air France flight available would depart a day before the group was scheduled to return. Aside from that, the effects and duration of the volcanic ash are uncertain. Mann said an Explorica employee told him there were disrupted trips from all over Maine and beyond. No one at Explorica could be reached for comment on Sunday.

“The silver lining in this cloud is that we could be stuck there,” said Mann. “We could be under ash. It could have been horrible, so I’m thinking it was one of those things that are meant to be.”

Mann said the school is attempting to reschedule the trip, which has been two years in the making and the subject of numerous fundraisers, for sometime in June.

“I really think we are going to have a happy ending here,” he said. “Some of these students have wanted to do this all their lives, and I need to make it happen for them.”

Another group of students and their parents from the Belfast area also saw their travel plans disrupted. Belfast Area High School junior Ava Gordley-Smith said she and three friends were planning a tour of Italy, but their flight was canceled.

So Friday night, instead of touching down in Milan, the four friends gathered for Italian movies, pizza and cannoli.

“It’s extremely annoying,” said Gordley-Smith. “We’re crossing our fingers that we’ll be able to go, but we want to be safe.”

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