Vocanic Plumes


One of my great passions in life used to be plane crashes. Yeah. Towards the latter (dying) days of my last relationship, I spent whole evenings obsessively watching Seconds from Disaster, Air Crash Investigation, and anything else I could find regarding the phenomenon. I can probably tell you anything you want to know about the Ethopia disaster, the Tenerife air crash, Tuskar Rock, or the problems associated with the Comet from the 1950s. And then there was my personal favourite: BA flight 9.

It is tantamount to my old obsession that when I heard the news of the volcanic plume floating gently south from Iceland over the British Isles, my immediately thoughts were of flight 9. This was a long haul flight which took off from Kuala Lumpur (one of my favourite cities in Asia) en route to Melbourne via Perth. A few hours into the flight, the pilots noticed St Elmos fire in the cockpit. Next thing, engine 4 powered off, and while the flight engineer was battling it, engine 3 followed, followed soon after by the last 2 engines. The craft gently glided at its high speed and altitute for some time, until all of a sudden, the engines started up again, one by one. An emergency landing was made at Jakarta once the craft was capable after a few other problems, and ultimately managed to land despite significant damage to its instrumentation and the windscreen effectively sandblasted.

The cause: volcanic dust caused by the Galunggung eruption in Java. It overheated the engines and only when the engines cooled after not running did they restart. Repairs were completed and the 747 itself only retired in 2004 and was only scrapped last summer.

So when the airspace over Britain and Ireland were closed today, there is perfect sense in this. This map from the UK Met shows the position today. There is no need for people to risk their lives and others by flying. So now you know!

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