FOUR days later than planned, an exhausted Ben Wilson has finally arrived home.
The 29-year-old endured an epic journey through 10 countries after his flight was grounded by the volcanic ash cloud.
But the Crohn’s Disease sufferer said his ordeal proved the camaraderie of people caught up in the crisis.
Ben, of Longbenton, Newcastle, was attending the annual conference of the European Federation for Crohn’s and Colitis in Helsinki, Finland.
He and the other 50 delegates, who all suffer from the bowel condition, were due to fly home on Sunday – until the eruption of Icelandic volcano Mount Eyjafjallajökull. “The first concern was everyone’s health,” said Ben, who works as an informatician conducting studies for health company Schin.
“We all suffer from the same condition and if we ran out of medication we could become very ill.”
After a few emergency medical appointments, the group caught a ferry from Finland to Estonia.
They then managed to charter a coach for the 1,500 mile slog across the continent, driving around the clock through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Apart from a brief overnight stay in Poland, they were on the bus for a solid 52 hours.
And they even picked up a couple of stranded tourists on the way. “A couple in our hotel heard us discussing the plans and asked if they could join us,” said Ben. “They were desperate to get home, so we invited them on board.”
From Brussels, Ben took a Eurostar through France to London, and then a train north, finally stepping onto the platform at noon yesterday – four days later than planned.
“The journey has been completely exhausting,” said a disheveled Ben as he arrived into Newcastle’s Central Station. “I’ve only had about five hours of broken sleep.
“One of the symptom’s of Crohn’s is tiredness, and on the way, some people were also starting to get sick.”
But the nightmare ordeal also brought the multi-national group together. “This group of people are used to enduring their illness, so no one got angry,” he said. “We really got to know each other.
“We all looked out for the people who were more vulnerable. One of the delegates was 81, so he especially needed help. We tried to make it fun by telling jokes and looking on the positive side.”
Getting home came with a price tag of £19,000 – doubling the cost of the conference. “It has put a big hole in our budget,” said Ben. “We hope to get some money back but it will cut down on the services the charity is able to provide.”