Air-borne pandemonium

An overhead shot of the ash spewing from the volcano in Iceland

AS THE cloud of volcanic ash slowly creeps south across Northern Europe, flights are expected to be grounded for another 48 hours, John O’Brien.

The chaos began when the volcano beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in the South-West region of Iceland, erupted on Wednesday for the second time in a month. This second, more potent eruption saw the volcano belching ash 500m wide, seven miles into the sky. The cloud has slowly headed south due to very little wind, prolonging the commotion.

The heat intensity of the volcano began melting ice from the glacier, sending chunks the size of houses down the mountain side; prompting the evacuation of 800 houses on the mountain side. This also caused the Markarfljot River to flood as well.

Reports now suggest that the flooding subsiding, yet the volcano continues to produce ash and gases that are adding to the southerly bound cloud.

With the UK, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands all closing their airports and with both France and Poland partially closing their Northern airspace, it equates to around 5,000 flights being disrupted.

Whilst the sky above Europe sits paralysed, the rest of the world’s airspace is unaffected. As for the Coventry students currently in China, the pandemonium is unlikely to affect their return. However, if such an event were to reoccur in the next few days in China, the story may be very different.

The last two volcanoes to erupt in China were the Baekdu Mountains and Kunlun Mountains in 1903 and 1951 respectively. Baekdu lies 1,332km North East of Shanghai along the North Korean border, which may sound a considerable distance away but it is considerably less than the distance between Eyjafjallajökull and Heathrow.

The Kunlun Mountains sit to the far West of the country, around 3,847km from Shanghai. Quite the sizeable distance, however, it lies directly in the flight path on the students return to England. Without taking a considerable de-tour to avoid running into a cloud, it would mean them being stranded in Shanghai.

Back in 1982, a British Airways Boeing 747 flying from London to Auckland encountered an ash plume from the erupting Mount Galunggung, Indonesia. Within minutes, all four engines had failed. The Captain’s announcement has since entered airline folklore. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” he said. “We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

The plane was able to glide out of the plume and three engines restarted. The ash cloud had clogged the engines, which thankfully restarted when enough of the molten ash broke off after solidifying.


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