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All it takes is just one volcano…

If you’re on the ground here in Bath, you might pass the day without ever realising that something unprecedented is unfolding in the skies and airports across Northern Europe. It’s splashed out on the headlines of every major newspaper on the web – google news results for “Iceland ash cloud” and a whole host of articles will come up on your screen.

For the first time in aviation history, commercial airspace has been shut down in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Denmark, with the Netherlands and northern France to follow suit in the next few hours. In light of the ongoing eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and the ensuing ash cloud, no one in Europe wants to take any chances.

Live European flights, 1735 BST

In 1982 a British Airways Jumbo Jet en route to Australia entered a volcanic ash cloud as it passed over the Indonesian island of Java. All four of its engines lost power and the plane went into a rapid descent. In what can only be described as a masterpiece of British understatement, the captain then made the following announcement to the passengers:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

At the last minute, as the cabin crew prepared for a ditch into the Indian Ocean, one engine roared back to life. Soon another engine restarted and the plane began to regain some altitude. Eventually all 4 came back on the system and the flight managed to turn around, landing safely in Jakarta.

Fast forward to the present day and the hazardous effects of volcanic ash on aircraft are both well documented and well understood. It comes as no surprise then to have flights suspended and airspace shut down all over Northern Europe – it is a tough but sensible choice, notwithstanding the money lost and the masses of angry travelers at airports.

The fact is that in spite of all our advances in human technology, we are still at the mercy of our restless planet.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. reba1987 #

    I had a feeling that you were going to blog about this. I just got off my lunch break, and I was checking the weather, and I saw the headline. As I was reading, I thought about my friend in England, and sure enough, about 2 minutes later, an email popped up saying that you had blogged. I have a sixth sense. It’s kind of a gift. 😉
    Seriuosly, that is a little crazy. I read one article that said that they are grounding just about as many flights as they did on 9/11.
    I feel like I should be on the street corner screaming out a bunch of prophesies about the world coming to an end….but I’m not a prophet, nor God, nor a geologist, so I will not come to some conclusion about the world coming to an end because of all of the freaky nautral disasters happening.
    The end. 🙂

    April 15, 2010
  2. Oh wow! We were in Europe during this eruption. We were supposed to take a flight from Malaga to Britain, but as we were waiting in line to board suddenly the screen showed flights canceled. We couldn’t believe it and wondered why they would be canceled. Then someone in the line told us that a volcano had erupted in Iceland. Iceland? What did that have to do with us. Little did we know that the next week would be no planes, but trains and automobiles and a few extra night in Madrid until we finally were able to reach Britain!

    February 24, 2014
    • It sounds like you took it in stride – I can imagine the frustration of so many passengers just waiting to get home! Still, I wouldn’t have minded a few extra days in Spain myself. Good thing the volcano didn’t blow over the Christmas season, the disruption would have been on an even bigger scale…

      February 26, 2014
      • Yes, I’m glad it didn’t drag on longer than it did. We had a plane ticket home booked from London and fortunately we were able to catch it.

        February 27, 2014
  3. I remember this very well.

    February 26, 2014
    • It was strange not to see a single plane in the sky.

      February 26, 2014

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