60 Minutes crew are home.
Shortly after 10pm in Australia
last night, 60 Minutes
journalist Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment landed at Sydney airport aboard QF8484, news
The team had flown business class with Emirates from Lebanon
via Dubai immediately after being released from their Beirut prison cells on Wednesday afternoon local time.
They cleared customs in Sydney shortly before 11pm and were rushed past waiting media minutes later. Brown had few words for reporters but they said it all.
“It’s just so good to be home,” she said.
The group’s release was secured after a deal with Ali Elamine, who agreed to withdraw charges against 60 Minutes and his estranged wife Sally Faulkner for trying to snatch back the couple’s two children, 5 and 3 on April 7.
Ballment spent a few moments with the media before he too was rushed into a black van and whisked away. He said he was tired and looking forward to a shower and spending time with his family.They left behind a nightmare fortnight and arrived to a packed media scrum and endless questions over the incident.
News Corp reporter David Murray spoke with Channel Nine news director Darren Wick at Beirut airport before the group boarded the flight to Dubai.
“Relief,” is how Wick described the feeling of securing their release.
“We’ve still got to do a debrief with these guys as well. They want to have their first conversation with their family.”
Channel Nine is staying tight-lipped over exactly how the deal to free its staff went down. Of particular interest is how much money was paid to Mr Elamine for the group’s freedom.
The Lebanese-born surf instructor insists he has not received a cent, however News Corp revealed on Thursday night Channel Nine paid US$500,000 to Mr Elamine in the official settlement registered with the prosecuting judge.
The group was detained along with agents from Child Abduction Recovery International, including founder Adam Whittington.
Mr Whittington and one of the operatives, Craig Michael, are still facing charges in Beirut, much to the disappointment of their lawyer, Joe Karam.
“It is not appropriate for Channel Nine to arrange a deal and not include the men they asked to execute it,” Mr Karam said on Wednesday.
Ms Faulkner remains in Lebanon where she was released on bail.
She is planning to stay at least one more day to see her two children. Conditions of her release stipulate she will grant Mr Elamine a divorce and custody of the couple’s children.
She will retain rights to visit them in a third country or Lebanon, but not in Australia.Video
Speaking with Nine on the way to the airport, Brown said the first thing she did on release was “call home straight away” and speak with husband John McAvoy.
“But not the kids yet, I can’t wait to speak to them obviously, although they have no idea about any of this,” she said.
At the airport in Beirut, before boarding the first leg of their return journey, Brown and her crew took a moment to celebrate.
In the Cedar Lounge, they shared Lebanese bread, falafels, some local Beirut beers and champagne.