Volcano fallout strands students

German exchange group in Auburn was supposed to have returned home Saturday
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Twenty-four students from Germany are stranded in Auburn because of ash from a volcano in Iceland that has brought European air travel to a near-standstill. The students are part of a Placer High School exchange, with the Germans visiting Auburn for two weeks. The group, along with four adults, was to have set out on a return flight to Germany on Saturday but ash safety concerns have left them grounded and their plans up in the air. And there’s no indication when they will be able to get a new flight home. Katharina Georgi, 16, was trying to take the delay and uncertainty in stride but concerns about school were an evident strain. “I can’t change the situation,” Georgi said. “It’s cool to stay here but we’ve already missed a week of school and now another week.” To help alleviate the unexpected absence from classes for the 24 students, Placer High School has opened up a classroom and will provide computer lab time. Classes for the 24 “new kids” at the Auburn school, which has an enrollment of 1,300, start today. Teacher Petra Enghofer, part of the German contingent, said the students were prepared to leave from San Francisco to Munich on a Lufthansa flight but it was cancelled because of European flying restrictions caused by the ash from a volcano under Eyjafjallajokull glacier. “We’re enjoying the time here and trying to make the best of the situation,” Enghofer said. Students and teachers will work with lessons faxed or e-mailed from their German high school. All 26 host families in Auburn have agreed to keep the students and adults in the exchange group as long as necessary. At this point, they still don’t know how long that would be, said Placer teacher Thomas Schroeder. This is the 10th year for the exchange and Schroeder said he could recall nothing coming close to the situation the German group is now in. The difficulty for the students is that they have to remain in one or two groups because they require adult supervision on their return flight. Lufthansa has one flight a day from San Francisco to Munich and those flights are already booked months in advance, Schroeder said. The only way they envision returning is if the German airline puts on extra flights. The airline is under no obligation to do so, however, because the ash event is being viewed as an “act of God.” “It’s good that the students are still here though because a lot of travelers are stuck in hotels or at airports,” Schroeder said. The unexpected delay left students able to attend Saturday’s junior prom at The Ridge in Auburn. If the group is in town next weekend, Schroeder said many may attend the Auburn Wild West Stampede. In June, Placer High students will be completing the exchange, when they spend three weeks in Germany.