Volcanic Ash Cloud Hazard Poses Delays, Cancellations

A British Airways flight lost power to four engines and made a narrow escape from disaster after flying into a volcanic ash cloud in 1982 over Indonesia.

Many airlines with flights bound in and out of European cities were faced with the threat of delays and even cancellations over the weekend due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland and the potential hazard posed to air traffic by the volcanic ash cloud, according to a post from CNN.com.  As much havoc as volcanic ash can potentially cause for air traffic, the potential dangers of volcanic ash for air traffic did not come to light in large part until 1982 when a British Airways flight encountered significant troubles after flying into an ash cloud.

British Airways Flight 9—bound for Perth, Australia from Kuala Lumpur—encountered difficulties resulting from the hazard when the Boeing 747 lost power to all four engines upon entering a volcanic ash cloud (unbeknownst to the crew at the time) from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia to the South-East of Jakarta.  Although there was no indication on any of the aircraft’s instruments on the flight deck of a fire, passengers and crew reported smoke in the cabin, flames emanating from the aircraft’s engines, and a light phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s Fire on the windows, wings, and over the entire body of the aircraft.  The aircraft suffered the loss of power to all four engines before gliding to an altitude below the ash cloud—at which the engines were successfully restarted in time for a successful emergency landing in Jakarta.

As a result of the incident, the airspace surrounding the volcano was permanently closed in the month following, and the risk of flying into a volcanic ash cloud is now regarded with far greater caution and awareness as a potential flight safety hazard.  Though it may be cause for great inconvenience in a case such as the recent Icelandic eruption, the dangers—now illustrated by damaged parts from British Airways Flight 9 on display at the Auckland Museum—are nothing to be ignored.

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