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Volcanic ash grounds flights across Europe

By ROBERT BARR and JILL LAWLESS
Associated Press Writers
LONDON (AP) - Ash from Iceland's spewing volcano halted air
traffic across a wide swathe of Europe on Thursday, grounding
planes on a scale not seen since the 9/11 terror attacks. Thousands
of flights were canceled, tens of thousands of passengers were
stranded and officials said it was not clear when it would be safe
enough to fly again.
In a sobering comment, one scientist in Iceland said the
ejection of volcanic ash - and therefore disruptions in air travel
- could continue for days or even weeks.
Authorities stopped all flights over Britain, Ireland and the
Nordic countries. The shutdown closed London's five major airports
including Heathrow, Europe's busiest, a major trans-Atlantic hub
that handles over 1,200 flights and 180,000 passengers per day.
With the cloud drifting south and east across Britain, the
country's air traffic service banned all non-emergency flights
until at least 7 a.m. (0600 GMT, 2 a.m. EDT) Friday.
Irish authorities closed their air space for at least eight
hours, and aviation authorities in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and
Finland took similar precautions.
Airport shutdowns and flight cancellations spread across Europe
- to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden,
Finland and Switzerland - as well as around the world.
The volcano's smoke and ash poses a threat to aircraft because
it can affect visibility, and microscopic debris can get sucked
into airplane engines and can cause them to shut down. Health
officials said the plume, which rose to between 20,000 feet and
36,000 feet (6,000 meters and 11,000 meters), posed no threat to
human health.
Airlines in the United States were canceling some flights to
Europe and delaying others.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said her
agency was working with airlines to try to reroute some flights
around the ash cloud, which lies above the Atlantic Ocean close to
the flight paths for most routes from the U.S. east coast to
Europe.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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