Aussie caught in Fyre Festival chaos

Carly Williams

Unless you've been living under a rock you would have heard about the biggest event fail of all time: Ja Rule's Fyre Festival.

It was meant to be an all-inclusive getaway to the Bahamas with food, yoga, villas, margaritas and a top-notch line up of music artists.

Models Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid were apparently paid a whopping $250,000 to promote the mini vacay and Instagram influencers were invited as VIPs.

Model Bella Hadid issued an apology for promoting the festival.
Model Bella Hadid issued an apology for promoting the festival.

But pictures of the carnage started appearing online on Friday and it looked more like a 'Pinterest Versus Real Life' meme.

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As soon as people arrived, they found what had been sold to them as luxe bungalows were actually a massive construction site with wet mattresses strewn across the gravel.

Punters were locked in a room in the airport on Friday with no air. Photo: Angela Kuolt
Punters were locked in a room in the airport on Friday with no air. Photo: Angela Kuolt

There was no food and people were given a bottle of tequila to drink in the sun while organisers scrambled in vain to salvage the situation.

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Be caught up with San Francisco-based dual Aussie and US citizen Angela Kuolt who spent 36 hours on the island trapped amongst the chaos.

Ange and her friends were part of the first group to get off the island and back to Miami where they enjoyed their first beer. Photo: Angela Kuolt
Ange and her friends were part of the first group to get off the island and back to Miami where they enjoyed their first beer. Photo: Angela Kuolt

We heard this was a rich kids of Instagram event? How much were tickets?
My friend bought an eight person package deal holiday from the website around January I think. We paid $500 each for our tickets which included 'private' flight from Miami, Villa accommodation with king size beds and all meals included which they described as a 'culinary experience'. That should have been a red flag because that is so cheap. It was meant to be $9,000 for eight people but we got an 'early bird 24 hours' special.

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What exactly did they promise you when you bought your tix?
It was advertised as a cultural event, music festival and culinary experience. Wake up and do sunset yoga, then head to boot camp, then have some drinks and listen to music. The event promised private planes but they’d chartered Swift Air to take festival-goers to the island.

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What happened when you got to the island?
When we landed, school buses picked us up and organisers said they wanted to treat us to 'breakfast' instead of taking us to the accommodation right away and we couldn't take our luggage with us. They took us to a beach bar but there was weirdly no food at all. We asked what was going on but no one had answers. We wanted our luggage but, again, no one had answers.

Around 11am staff opened boxes of Whispering Angel (that’s a fancy Rosé wine) and Casamigos tequila. Instead of making drinks they just handed out bottles to swig from.

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Why do you think that was their first priority?
I think they wanted people to black out so we'd stop asking questions. So it’s 11am, really hot and sunny and people start taking shots. By the afternoon there's a couple hundred people there, but there is no food, only tonnes of booze, Rosé and bottles of tequila.

When did you get to the actual festival site?
As the night goes on people are getting super f***ed up. We paid a local to take us to the festival grounds because busses arrived but there was way too many people for the vehicles. When we arrived it was pure chaos and looked like a construction site. There were fences everywhere, it was like a mining quarry with a steep hill and water at the bottom. There were refugee tents for sleeping and unpacked boxes and piles of stuff.

Who was in charge?
For a while we couldn't find anyone in charge. There were people with FYRE branded shirts but they had no answers and had no clue what was going on either. I started talking to a guy who ended up being the festival CEO Billy McFarland (I had no idea who it was at the time). He was standing on a table trying to delegate the crowd but it useless... he seemed super shaken and stressed out (obviously) and didn't seem to know what to do. I spoke to him about our so called 'villa' which he said he would sort out and then never came back.

Festival CEO Billy McFarland. Photo: Instagram
Festival CEO Billy McFarland. Photo: Instagram

When did you decide you should get the hell out?
First we thought we should set up in one of the tents for a night and get some sleep. It was just a free-for-all though and no tents were assigned to anyone, people were just claiming shelter. We started looking in tents and saw people passed out because they were so drunk from drinking booze all day. We got a tent for the four people in my group but realized there was no security and we were nervous about how many more people were going to come to the island with lack of water or food. Mattresses were soaking wet because they’d been left outside the tents. So about an hour in we decided to get to the airport as we were told they were sending a 'rescue' plane around 10pm... so we rushed. Luckily found another local who called a woman to get out of bed and take us in her van with the promise of USD$100.

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What happened next?
We got to the airport as other people were also arriving - I have no idea how other people got there - this was around 9pm on Thursday. There were maybe 100 of us there in the tiny airport.

What was the mood like at the airport?
This is when things started getting desperate. They hand wrote boarding passes and took none of our information. As more people arrived we were nervous we were going to loose our place on the plane. We got on the plane around 1am and as it opened its doors everyone just ran onto it - it was a total free for all.

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How long did it take you to actually leave the island?
We're all sitting on the plane thinking we're about to leave but the list of people on the plane didn't match the number of people on the plane. So from 1am til 6am we sit on the plane as they try and match the people to the names on the manifest in the most inefficient ways. Roll calling, telling people to come up to the front etc. Half the people are sleeping and nothing gets done. People are screaming and getting really hot and frustrated. They finally take us all off the plane then cross us off one by one to get back on. Again we finally think we're taking off around 6am but then are told that the pilot can't fly as he's past the amount of hours he could fly for one day. They put us back into a small room in the airport.

People were angry at this point and the airport staff chain locked the doors so we couldn’t get out. There was 110 people in a small room, with no air, no food, no water on a hot island at 6am after no sleep people started to freak out. Around 8am my male friend (he's over 6 foot!) passed out and that's when things got really heated. People started yelling at the staff to open the doors, and the staff yelled at us telling us not to take pictures but we wanted proof of what was happening. At this point they opened the doors and passed out water bottles.

Were you ever scared?
It was scary because we were in the sun all day, dehydrated, had no food or water and zero sleep. When I got to the airport I was feeling really sick. Before we even got on the plane (around midnight) I remember hearing ‘She’s going, she’s going’ and then I woke up with someone holding my legs above my head. I'd passed out on the ground of the airport and I have never passed out or lost consciousness like that in my life, so that was scary. I guess what scared me was seeing the airport and festival staff legitimately very frightened because they had no control of what was going on. The stories we were hearing from the camp site were also concerning; apparently there were feral dogs roaming the campsite, there was alleged theft and some people reportedly got beat up.

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Where do you think it went so horribly wrong?
The guy who ran the event [Billy McFarland] was a young millionaire with apparently no event experience. I heard he did the production in-house. Regardless it was clear they were in in over their heads and had nothing ready or enough supplies for us. A event worker on ground told us the problems stemmed from issues with the local officials and workers who they had to hire to set up the event. They should have postponed it for next year.

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