Guide to Stratovolcanoes of the World
A Fictional Story - Chris' Flight
Chris sat with his mom in the British Airways jet. They were flying
to meet Chris' dad in Singapore. Chris had talked his mom into letting
him have the window seat. He did not fly very often, and he loved looking
out the window.
"We will be flying a little south of our scheduled route." the pilot announced. It should take us a few minutes longer to get to Singapore, but all of you will be able to make your connecting flights!"
Chris looked out the window. He could see a big bank of clouds off to
the right of the plane. They were white and glistening in the sun. Occasionally
he could see the clouds light up within.
"Wow! Mom, look at those cool clouds. You can see the lightening in them!"
Chris closed his eyes for a few minutes. A loud crash woke him. First, everything in the cabin seemed to light up. Then the cabin lights went off. A strange green light filled the cabin and pointed metal objects seemed to glow. Chris looked out the window. Suddenly, a bright flash lit up the dark cabin as lightning struck the wing of the plane. The cabin lights flickered, then came back on.
"This is the Captain speaking. We ask that you remain seated with your seat belts securely fastened. We flew through a volcanic ash cloud and have lost power in our engines. We are working to restart the engines, but we are losing altitude. Flight attendants, begin emergency water landing briefing."
"Are we going to crash?"
His mom looked worried.
"I think we will be alright, honey. Let's listen to what the flight attendants are saying," she said.
The plane was over ocean, 180 nautical miles from the nearest suitable airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. Without power, they would land in the water in about 18 minutes, perhaps halfway to Jakarta. The plane continued to drop for eight long minutes, loosing 24,000 feet in altitude. Then the Captain's voice came on again.
"I am happy to announce that we have restarted one engine. We hope to restart our other engines, but the plane is no longer loosing altitude! For safety reasons, we are detouring to the nearest airport at Jakarta. We should have you safely on the ground in a few minutes. We will put you aboard a different plane so that you can continue your trip to Singapore."
Chris and his mother are fictitious characters, but the description of events accuately reflects what can happen when an airplane flies through a volcanic ash cloud.
Note: On June 24, a British Airways jumbo jet with 240 passengers did encounter an ash cloud from Galunggung volcano. It was flying150 km (90 mi) west of Galunggung at 11 km altitude. The ash caused all four of its engines to stall. It also scratched and pitted the windshield so badly the pilots could not see to steer the plane to the terminal gate. As the jet flew through the ash cloud St. Elmo's Fire (ball lightning) filled the cockpit. The aircraft plunged 7,500 m before the engines were restarted and it was able to land safely in Jakarta, Indonesia.