NORTHWICH schoolboys left stranded in Spain after issues at an airport gate finally flew home at the weekend.

A party of 40 pupils and teachers from Hartford High School were returning from a football tour to Barcelona when they were stopped from boarding a flight.

A security breach is alleged to have caused Ryanair to close the gate on Thursday evening and the group’s baggage was unloaded.

Pupils told their parents that a woman had been trying to board the plane without a passport.

The boys, all under 16, stayed overnight in a hotel and faced the daunting prospect of a 30-hour coach and ferry crossing home.

In an email informing parents of the proposed road and boat itinerary, head teacher Rachel Pickerill had said: “Every effort has been made to fly the children home but due to legalities, places on planes and insurance, the travel company have not been able to arrange this.

“We realise that this journey is not ideal but sadly, it is the best plan that could be arranged to ensure everyone returns home as soon as possible.”

Unexpectedly, just one hour into their journey, an alternative flight was offered by Ryanair from nearby Gerona.

One mum, whose 14-year-old was in the group, said: “A teacher got a phone call from the tour operator to say that Ryanair was diverting a flight from Dublin.

“The boys boarded a flight at 11.55pm on Friday and landed in Manchester at 12.50pm.

“They got home at 2.30am on Saturday.

“All the parents were clapping as the coach pulled in and hugging the teachers.

“All the kids had smiles.

“We are very grateful for what Ryanair did and the children were not sat on a coach for 30 hours.

“The boys said it was the best football trip ever. They all had an awesome time playing Spanish teams and going on stadium tours.

“They had an absolute ball.”

Ryanair denied a ‘security incident’ took place and claimed the group was late presenting at the gate.

The airline transferred the group to a subsequent flight free of charge as a gesture of goodwill.

A spokesman for Ryanair said: “Ryanair accommodated passengers at the neighbouring airport at Girona, travelling to Manchester.

“It is each passenger’s responsibility to present at the boarding gate before it closes.

“Had this group of passengers presented themselves at the boarding gate before it closed, they would have boarded this flight from Barcelona to Manchester alongside the 139 passengers who did present at the gate on time.

“When boarding is closed, a legal report of the manifest is signed and sent to the captain, therefore boarding cannot be re-opened and non-boarded passengers’ bags must be removed.

“There are no reports of an incident at the gate.”