Massive Indonesian volcano eruption grounds flights

Australian airports and flights to and from country particularly affected as ash cloud tracks south east

A huge volcanic eruption in Indonesia has covered the region in a vast cloud of ash, grounding flights in Australia and south east Asia.

Sangeang Api, a volcano off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, which lies in one of the most active areas of the Pacific ‘ring of fire’, has erupted at least three times since Friday.

Dramatic images show smoke, ash and debris shooting into the sky, while a flying saucer shaped current of gas wraps around the plumes.

All flights have been cancelled from Darwin airport, Australia’s Northern Territory capital, and disruption is expected for days as the cloud could reach as far south as Brisbane.

The ash cloud from the first eruption is around 20,000 and 50,000 feet high and around 15 km wide, according to reports. It is moving south-easterly over Australia. A second, now over Darwin is sitting at around 45,000 feet, while a third is over Bali. 

"Depending on wind and other weather conditions, the ash has the potential to affect flights to and from other airports, including Brisbane, during coming days. This is currently being fully assessed," Australian deputy prime minister Warren Truss said.

"It is spreading east and it may dissipate, so it is not clear how far east it will get," Emile Jansons, Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre manager at the Bureau of Meteorology in Darwin, told the Australian Associated Press. "It is not yet clear if it will affect the eastern seaboard."