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Chaos in Indonesian skies on Saturday due to volcanic ashes

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Nov 07, 2010

(eTN) - Since October 26, an almost uninterrupted lava eruption from Mount Merapi volcano in Central Java has killed at least 122 people and forced over 150,000 persons to flee their home. The eruption is, so far, the worst in over a century.

The city of Yogyakarta, a popular tourist attraction with its historical buildings and the presence of the famed temples of Prambanan and Borobudur in its surroundings, has been placed on high alert. The city is located only 40 km south of the volcano. On Friday, cold lava was carried through rivers into the heart of the city causing panic among inhabitants living on the banks of the river. Lava was carried by heavy rains.

Air transport from and to Java Island was also dealing with chaos as airlines started to cancel flights due to the danger present by ash clouds and volatile particles of ashes in the air, which could cause severe damage to aircrafts' engines. Airports such as Yogyakarta and Solo have been closed to traffic due to their proximity to the volcano. AirAsia also suspended its flights to Bandung in West Java, while Semarang airport located North of Mount Merapi did not close to traffic. In Jakarta, many international airlines decided to cancel flights on Saturday. According to the management of Jakarta Soekarno Hatta airport, Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, Emirates, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, China Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Tiger Airways, and local carrier Mandala cancelled or rescheduled their flights.

Unlike foreign airlines, national Indonesian carrier, Garuda, continued to fly normally to Jakarta. In a statement, Garuda Indonesia VP of communication, Pujobroto, announced on Saturday that the national flag carrier had not received any notification that Soekarno-Hatta Airport had been affected by volcanic ash from Mt. Merapi, still located 500 km east of the airport. “There has been no notice to airmen so far from the aviation authorities, which says the airport is affected by the volcanic ash. Therefore, Garuda continues its activities,” Pujobroto said as quoted by The airport’s authority, Angkasa Pura II, which operates Jakarta Soekarno Hatta Airport, indicates that the airport is safe for airlines to fly. Contacted by phone, Hemi Pamuraharjo, deputy director for domestic flight services at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, explained that only Solo and Yogyakarta remained closed to traffic on Sunday, while all other airports are operating normally.

Last April, the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano forced the closure of most European airports resulting in the cancellation of over 100,000 flights.

Chaos in Indonesian skies on Saturday due to volcanic ashes
Yogyakarta airport on a clear day in 2009 / Photo by L. Citrinot

Source: with the support of reports from the Jakarta Post, the Jakarta Globe and Antara

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