Executive director of British travel firm Thomas Cook said it was a "deep sad day" and apologized to "millions" after the compulsory liquidation of a travel company with cash costs leaving 600,000 holidaymakers worldwide.
The UK's Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that one of the world's oldest and largest tour operators had "ceased trading with immediate effect" after last minute talks failed to save it.
There are currently around 600,000 Thomas Cook customers on weekends, including 150,000 from the UK, reports news.com.au.
The Matterhorn emergency operation will aim to bring 150,000 British tourists home, believed to be the largest peacetime repatriation operation in British history, the BBC reports.
Empty aircraft have already begun to fly abroad to bring Thomas Cook's customers home. Customers who have not yet left the UK are advised not to go to the airport.
At 179 years old, Thomas Cook, one of the world's oldest travel providers, offers airlines, cruises, hotels, resorts and travel packages to 19 million customers in 16 countries a year. It also has around 22,000 employees worldwide.
Its recent financial difficulties stem from fierce online competition, high jet fuel prices and concerns over Brexit.
Chinese firm Fosun had agreed to support $ 1.73 billion in refinancing, but Thomas Cook's banks ordered it to raise an additional $ 398 million as an emergency to see it all winter. Today was unable to provide additional funds ahead of schedule.
Thomas Cook said in a statement that the company's board had "concluded that it had no choice but to take immediate action to commence compulsory liquidation."
"I and the rest of the board deeply regret that we did not succeed," said Peter Fankhauser, the company's chief executive officer.
"I would like to apologize to our millions of customers and the thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years. Despite the enormous uncertainty in recent weeks, our teams have continued to place our clients first, showing why Tom Cook is one of our travel favorite brands.
"Customer generations have entrusted their family holidays to Thomas Cook because our people have kept customers at the business center and kept our founder's spirit of innovation.
"This is a deeply sad day for a company that has launched travel packages and allowed millions of people to travel around the world."
Previously, Flightradar24 captured dozens of Thomas Cook planes flying back to Britain because of fears of collapse, which was finally confirmed after midnight in Britain.
British Thomas Cook customers would be protected by Atol, the British government's financial protection scheme for package holidays, but the Financial Times noted that the collapse of Thomas Cook would be the scheme's biggest test yet.
$ 65,000 worth of wedding decorations
Chloe Hardy of Leicestershire, UK, and her partner spent about $ 65,000 on a target wedding on the Greek island of Zante next month.
They booked Thomas Cook's wedding package last June and now they have no idea what's going to happen.
"We are scheduled to depart on Thursday," Ms. Hardy told The Sun.
"Our wedding costs almost £ 12,000 (£ 23,858) with the items we have purchased here, the wedding package, everything we have organized with the resort's wedding coordinator."
Hardy said she and her partner had arranged for 33 relatives to fly to Zanti for the wedding.
She said bookings are protected by Atoll, but the cancellation will still be devastating.
"We're not sure if we can fly," she said.
"I have booked three weeks off work and there is no guarantee that I will be able to take time off if I have to make a re-booking."
Another couple, Sami Ryder and Dean Turgeon, said they had booked a Thomas Cook wedding package in Santorini in September.
"The wedding package includes a wedding venue, a celebratory party to marry us, bouquets, etc., and about 30 to 35 guests fly with us," said Mrs Ryder.
Matthew Moore and partner Aaron from Armagh County in Northern Ireland said they spent about $ 36,800 on their dream wedding in Cyprus in two weeks with 26 guests.
"Some of the guests have asked us if we know what's going on, but we just tell them what Thomas Cook tells us," he told The Sun.
"They contact us saying they are in stress and we try to tell them, 'Well can you understand how stressed we are?' "
"If it was a normal holiday, it wouldn't be so bad, but it's a wedding.
"All the stress of wedding planning is heavy enough, but it causes serious anxiety and sleepless nights."
& # 39; WE WOULD HELP TO TIP & # 39;
Meanwhile, Tunisian tourists who booked their tours at Thomas Cook were barricaded inside the resort for fear that the travel company would not be able to pay the bills.
Thomas Cook's clients staying at Les Orangers Hotel in Tunisia said they had been locked in until they paid 6,000 Tunisian dinars, about A3350 dollars, to catch flights home.
"We have been held hostage," British tourist Ryan Farmer told the BBC.
He said guests leaving on leave were forced to go to the front desk to pay "extra fees, apparently because of the situation with Thomas Cook."
"We have come to the gate. They had four guards at the gate who kept the gate closed and prevented anyone from going out," he said.
Another British tourist, Chris Rutherford, said at the hotel reception "we were told we had to pay £ 4,000 ($ 7,951) to authorize a departure."
"They ordered the elderly lady, who had fallen and broken her arm, to pay £ 2,596 (£ 4,969) on leave, to leave the hotel," he said.
"A spokesman for Thomas Cook told us last night that they only deal with people who had to leave that night. Since we were supposed to be here by Friday, we had no information and no further correspondence with Thomas Cook."
Hotel gates have since reopened, but customers fear they will be closed again as soon as more tourists leave, reports the BBC.
The British Embassy is reported to have spoken to the hotel.