Volcanic ash cloud from Iceland grounds all UK flights

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

An ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano grounded all but emergency flights above Britain today, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.





With the high-flying ash a threat to aircraft, air traffic control company Nats closed all controlled UK airspace until at least 7am tomorrow.



But Nats dismissed any suggestion it had over-reacted, saying safety was paramount.



With the ash drifting south, Nats was due to make a further announcement around 8pm tonight about the status of UK flights up to 1pm tomorrow.



The microscopic particles which make up volcanic ash pose a threat to aircraft because they can affect visibility and get sucked into aircraft engines, causing them to shut down.



Airports across the country, which had been able to handle some early-morning arrivals and departures before the flight ban, effectively shut down from noon - and passengers were warned to expect more disruption tomorrow.







Normally about 1,300 flights and 180,000 passengers go in and out of Heathrow every day, while Gatwick airport would expect to handle 679 flights carrying 80,000 passengers. Today only 168 flights passed through Gatwick.



At Manchester airport, a total of 202 arrivals and 311 departing flights would normally operate in the period from 7am today to 7am tomorrow.



The ash, from the Icelandic mountain Eyjaffjalljokull, also caused airport and aircraft movement shutdowns in other parts of Europe including France, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Holland.



Einar Kjartansson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, said: "It is likely that the production of ash will continue at a comparable level for some days or weeks.



"But where it disrupts travel, that depends on the weather. It depends how the wind carries the ash."



It was not the first time air traffic has been halted by a volcano, but such widespread disruption has not been seen the September 11 terror attacks.



Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he sympathised with those affected by the situation but stressed that safety must come first.



Tory leader David Cameron also expressed concern for passengers, while Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable was among those who had to cancel his flight plans, scrapping an election campaign trip to Scotland.



Experts stressed that the ash, in tiny particles and difficult to detect, was no danger to public health but posed a distinct danger to aircraft.



As passengers scrambled to find other means of leaving the country, former British Airways pilot Eric Moody recalled how he and his crew safely landed a 263-passenger Boeing 747 jumbo jet in Jakarta in 1982 after ash from an erupting volcano had, temporarily, knocked out all four engines.



Mr Moody, now 68, said today: "Having flown through a cloud of ash I think that air traffic control have made the right decision today."



Those stuck at airports operating no flights bemoaned their luck. Ann Cochrane, 58, a market researcher originally from Beith in Ayrshire, was trying to get home to Toronto, where she now lives.



She said: "I think I might cry," she said. "I just wish I was on a beach in Mexico. We took a cab at 7.30am today and they told us about what was going on and said we should go home.



"It's not so bad for us because we're only down the road so we will just hire a car for another day, but other people live hours away."



Among others affected were about 50 members of the Great Britain Ice Hockey Supporters' Club heading for the world championships in Slovenia from Stansted.



At Heathrow, confused passengers milled around with their luggage, many queuing at customer information desks in a bid to rearrange flights.



There were also queues for payphones and the internet as people attempted to contact friends and relatives and find out more information.



Many were angry that all flights had been cancelled, with some saying the decision was an over-reaction.











But a spokeswoman for Nats said: "We certainly do not think we have over-reacted. Safety is our main priority and volcanic ash is a serious threat to aircraft.



"No one can remember a time before when controlled airspace has been closed in the UK.



"This is certainly one of the most significant instances of flight restrictions in living memory."



Airlines, insurance companies, the Civil Aviation Authority and the European Union all reminded passengers of their compensation rights following today's cancellations.



P&O Ferries reported a surge in passenger numbers following the airports' shutdown, while Channel Tunnel high-speed train company Eurostar said it was carrying increasing numbers on its London to Paris and Brussels services.



Some passengers unable to fly on domestic routes switched to rail, with train companies putting on more services on the East Coast and West Coast main line routes.



National Express laid on extra coaches.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?