The last time she saw France, Zainab Hossaini was a shivering 17-year-old refugee sitting in a boat in the early hours of Christmas Day, preparing to make the treacherous journey across the English Channel as an unaccompanied minor.
Yesterday she glimpsed its fuzzy coastline while piloting an aircraft 2,000ft above Kent. Hossaini, who was in the middle of her first flying lesson, said afterwards: “The view was so good, what I had always dreamed of.”
When the Observer published an account of Hossaini’s Channel crossing it generated widespread sympathy for the plight of the refugees. In the interview she told of her ambition to become an airline pilot. Last week Hossaini, who is from Afghanistan, turned 18 and a reader offered to pay for her initial flying lessons. She had her first one yesterday.
At 11.14am her Piper Archer plane took off from runway 03 at Lydd airfield near Ashford, about a mile from the coast. Minutes later, with the sun burning off the morning mist and more of France coming into view, the aircraft turned towards the Channel.
Below lay the beaches where hundreds of migrants have landed in dinghies over the past year. Another 11 aboard a small boat were intercepted by the Border Force on Friday.
At about 11.30am Hossaini’s plane flew over the sloping beach of Folkestone where she had landed in the UK eight months earlier, cold and vomiting with seven others at 2.40am on Christmas Day.