Drake Phillips and Friends

The group of Bozeman friends poses while stranded at the Dubai International Airport earlier this week.

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Drake Phillips and four friends were vacationing in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines, when they got notice that Manila was closing down over fears of coronavirus spreading.

By March 14, the group had been there about four days. During that time they went canyoneering through Kawasan Falls, swam with whale sharks and motorbiked around the island.

Phillips said the group paused when they heard the news. They had a serious conversation about what their next steps were and whether they were willing to cut their vacation short.

“We ended up, as a group, deciding that we would kind of roll the dice,” Phillips said.

That meant catching a ferry ride to a smaller remote island called Siquijor and getting an Airbnb there and hoping things on the mainland would calm down. The next day, they were forced to head back after hearing the small island would be shutting down for the next month.

Phillips and his friends spent the next several days at a hotel rescheduling multiple flights, after several cancellations, to get back to Bozeman.

On Tuesday, the group finally found a flight that would take them to Dubai International Airport then to LAX in Los Angeles, California. When the group landed in Dubai, however, Phillips said the airport had completely shut down.

The group has been stranded at the airport a little more than a day, and now their parents are working with state officials to try to get them back home.

“We are still just kind of … at the mercy of our government and any agency that’s able to charter a flight and get us some kind of evacuation out,” Phillips said.

Renee Gavin, mother of one of the men on the trip, said it’s been a “roller coaster” and that “hopes were dashed on a daily basis” after several promising flights home were canceled. At one point, she said, the guys’ passports were taken from them at the Dubai airport.

“There just needs to be a resolution to this situation,” said Gavin, a member of the Chronicle’s editorial board.

Drake’s father, state Sen. Mike Phillips, said they’re working on it. He and other parents have asked the U.S. State Department for help and reached out to the government in Manila.

“It was just dark,” he said. When those options failed, he said, it was time for the U.S. government and Montana to “engage on behalf of these boys.”

He reached out to Montana’s congressional delegation —Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, and Rep. Greg Gianforte — and Gov. Steve Bullock for help. Mike said the delegation and the governor have been talking to other government officials, and that things have improved “mightily.”

“When I reached out to Tester, Daines, Bullock and Gianforte, my hands became effectively untied,” he said.

For now the guys will spend another night at the airport. Drake said he’s not too worried.

“We are privileged travelers as our families are very willing to help us financially and emotionally … and that’s a privilege that not a lot of other people have,” Drake said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.