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Volcano eruption cancels Bali, Phuket flights and closes Indonesian airports

14/02/2014 Amanda Hoh
An air plane is is covered with volcanic ash from an eruption of Mount Kelud at Yogyakarta airport, Indonesia © Volcano eruption cancels Bali, Phuket flights and closes Indonesian airports An air plane is is covered with volcanic ash from an eruption of Mount Kelud at Yogyakarta airport, Indonesia

A Jetstar flight from Perth to Jakarta on Friday morning was filled with smoke after the plane flew into Indonesia’s volcanic ash cloud, a passenger said.

Virgin Australia has cancelled all flights to Bali, Phuket, Christmas Island and Cocos Island after an eruption in Indonesia closed three international airports and darkened skies across a large swath of the country's most densely populated island, Java.

Two Qantas flights, QF41 Sydney to Jakarta and QF42 Jakarta to Sydney, have been delayed until Saturday, while flight paths from Australia to Singapore have been altered, a Qantas spokeswoman said.

 

My cancelled flight to Jakarta from Surabaya this morning... It needs a little shower. #MtKeludErupted pic.twitter.com/qbG4Y3C6ie

— Philip Mantofa (@philipmantofa) February 14, 2014  

A spokesman for Jetstar said it had not yet cancelled any flights but the airline was monitoring the situation.

Richard Craig, from Perth, was on a flight to Jakarta at about 5am on Friday when he said the plane suddenly flew into the ash cloud about 30 minutes before landing.

“It was just starting to get light then it suddenly went quite dark and what I thought was smoke appeared in the cabin out the front, started coming out of the air vent and alarm went off and beeped a few times,” he said. 

“There was an unusual smell. It wasn’t like smoke, a slightly sweet smell. More like a very fine smoke.

“The pilot put on the seat belt sign and the staff were trying to hurry to get people into any seat even if it wasn’t theirs."

Mr Craig said the smoke cleared within a few minutes and the pilot made announcements saying it was a volcanic ash cloud and that “no one was aware of it in the area. The air traffic control wasn’t aware of it and they weren’t aware of it.”

Jetstar said that when flight JQ 114  left Perth, there had been no volcanic activity reported in the area but about 30 minutes out of Jakarta, the flight crew operating JQ 114 became aware of volcanic activity.

"[The crew] followed standard operating procedures to ensure the aircraft landed safely," a spokesman said.

Mount Kelud erupted on Thursday night, hurling red hot ash and rocks over a huge distance.

The explosions could be heard 130 kilometres away in Surabaya, the country's second-largest city, and even further afield in Yogyakarta.

Melbourne student Anna Strempel, who is studying Indonesian in Yogyakarta, said she had little food left and all the shops were shut because of the ash.

“It’s pretty eerie here actually. It’s pretty quiet, looks as though there’s been snowfall.

“It doesn't really smell but you can feel the grit in your eyes and you can feel it in your throat.”

Ash covered the ground in both cities and was still falling, witnesses and accounts on social media reported. TV footage from towns closer to the peak showed farm animals covered in ash.

Ms Strempel said she could still hear rumbling on Friday afternoon.

“We walked out to get some food but everything is closed. I only have one cucumber left to get me through.”

She said locals remarked the ash fall was much worse then the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi, which is only 25 kilometres away from Yogyakarta and forced hundreds of people to flee the city.

Virgin said its meteorologists were monitoring the situation, in consultation with the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin, and the airline would recommence normal operations as soon as the volcanic ash cloud safely allowed it.

At least 10 Virgin Australia flights have been cancelled, including flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Perth to Denpasar. Four inbound flights from Bali to Australia have been grounded.

An additional two flights between Perth and Phuket were also cancelled.

“For safety reasons, we can’t fly within 100 nautical miles of an ash cloud so that’s why we’ve had to cancel them,” a Virgin Australia spokeswoman said.

"Guests will be reaccommodated to the next available flight accordingly."

About 200,000 people living in 36 villages within 10 kilometres of Mount Kelud's crater were ordered to evacuate on Thursday night after the volcano erupted.

TV pictures on Friday showed ash and rocks raining down on nearby villages as terrified locals fled in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centres.

Transport ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said Yogyakarta, Solo and Surabaya airports were closed due to reduced visibility and the dangers posed to aircraft engines by ash.

The mountain had been rumbling for several weeks.

The 1731-metre Kelud is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia.

with AP, AFP

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