UK sends warships to rescue stranded Britons
LONDON (AP) -- Britain sent Royal Navy warships on Monday to rescue those stranded across the Channel by the volcanic ash cloud, and the aviation industry blasted European transport officials, claiming there was "no coordination and no leadership...
LONDON (AP) -- Britain sent Royal Navy warships on Monday to rescue those stranded across the Channel by the volcanic ash cloud, and the aviation industry blasted European transport officials, claiming there was "no coordination and no leadership" in the crisis that shut down most European airports for a fifth day.
Eurocontrol, the air traffic agency in Brussels, said less than one-third of flights in Europe were taking off Monday -- between 8,000 and 9,000 of the continent's 28,000 scheduled flights.
Some smaller airports reopened Monday but authorities in Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands -- home to four of Europe's five largest airports -- said their air space was still closed. Britain said it was keeping flight restrictions on through early Tuesday while Italy briefly lifted restrictions in the north then quickly closed down again after conditions worsened Monday.
Meanwhile, scientists in Iceland offered some hope that conditions at the erupting volcano were easing. The new ash plume is lower, which would pose less of a threat to commercial aircraft in the future.
Geologists saw a red glow at the bottom of the volcano, suggesting the eruption is turning to lava flow and that there is less ice in the crater -- which would reduce the plume.
"We hadn't seen that before," said Kristin Vogfjord, a geologist at the Icelandic weather office.
In Britain, leaders made contingency plans to bring people home. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and assault ship HMS Ocean would be sent across the English Channel. A third ship is being spent to Spain to pick up soldiers trying to get back to Britain after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
"I expect Ocean to be in the Channel today. I expect the Ark Royal to moving towards the Channel later," Brown said after a meeting of the government's emergency committee, known as COBRA.
He said Britain was speaking with Spanish authorities to see whether Britons stranded overseas could be flown there and then taken home by boat or bus.
Brown said the ash cloud had created "the biggest challenge to our aviation transport network for many years."
The International Air Transport Association says the airport lockdowns are costing the aviation industry at least $200 million a day. Millions of travelers have been stuck since the volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier begun erupting Wednesday for the second time in a month.