A team from NSW Health, a lone police officer, council dignitaries and marketing types were among those waiting patiently at Orange Airport on Saturday morning to welcome a Qantas mystery flight from Brisbane.
With contact tracing ongoing in Brisbane after a man - and later a friend - tested positive to COVID, health department officials were on hand to screen passengers with temperature and paperwork checks as they entered the airport after disembarking the 737.
"As a precaution, NSW Health requested we screen anyone entering NSW from Queensland, just to check whether they've been to the venues that the recent case had been to," said director of public health for Western and Far West, Priscilla Stanley, who was at the airport to oversee operations.
Asked if the passengers had been tested in Brisbane, she said: "We hope so; that's the reason in NSW we do these sort of tests - we can't be guaranteed people who have been in these places that have been visited by the case have been vetted out before visiting NSW."
Ms Stanley said "we're now in that time where community transmission is low and the risk is low, and it's a good thing to have people from another part of Australia visiting, so we just do what we can to protect the community here".
The passengers, including seasoned travellers Russell and Vicki Argus from the Gold Coast, were only told of their destination by the pilot as the plane began its descent into Orange, about 30 minutes behind schedule.
"They didn't give us a lot of information, but food and wine were definitely mentioned," said Mrs Argus.
Asked why they had booked a mystery flight, a form of entertainment that lost its mojo a few decades ago, Mr Argus said: "We haven't been in the air for a while, we like to travel, and this sounded like a good idea, so this is what we did!
"We went in low and got to have a good look around."
Qantas received permission from NSW Health for the flight to go ahead on Friday, said Emily Mann from marketing firm Orange360.
She said the passengers numbered about 140; four buses would ferry them to Sister's Rock Restaurant at Borrodell Vineyard for a two-course lunch before dividing into four smaller groups.
Each group would visit either Philip Shaw Wines, Printhie Wines, Heifer Station Wines or the Millthorpe Collective (Angullong, Tamburlaine and Slow Wine Co).
"[Vineyards] have just finished vintage, so wineries are in full production mode," said Mrs Mann.
"I think it will be a real experience for anyone who hasn't been to a cool climate NSW wine region."
The return flight was slated to depart at 6pm.
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