Lifestyle & Belief

Chile volcano ash disrupts Australia, New Zealand flights (VIDEO)


A cloud of ashes billows near the Puyehue volcano in Chile, 870 kilometers south of Santiago, on June 7, 2011.


Claudio Santana

Ash clouds from a volcanic eruption in Chile have drifted across the Pacific and caused havoc for air travel in Australia and New Zealand, with flight cancellations affecting some 8,000 people.

Since Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano began erupting a week ago, the plume of ash has travelled more than 5,800 miles across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, carried by strong winds. The ash clouds are now heading toward Australia, and air traffic is expected to be affected for at least the next few days.

Australian airline Qantas on Sunday cancelled flights to and from New Zealand’s South Island, as well as to and from the Australian island of Tasmania. Qantas also grounded flights between Melbourne and Auckland.

"We believe that it's absolutely the right thing to ground these services. We will put them back up in the air as soon as possible, but it's a safety first approach for our customers,” Qantas spokesperson Olivia Wirth told ABC Radio.

Virgin Australia also suspended domestic and international flights in and out of Melbourne as of Sunday evening.

But Air New Zealand was flying as normal and monitoring developments, saying it will adjust flight routes and altitudes to avoid the ash plumes. The airline said its aircraft would change flight paths or fly at a lower altitude of 18,000 feet to remain below the ash cloud, which is at 20,000-30,000 feet — the cruising altitude for jet and turboprop planes, the Australian Associated Press reports.

New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority has warned that New Zealand airspace might be affected for at least a week, given that the volcano in Chile is still erupting.

While thousands of travelers in Australia and New Zealand have been delayed, the ash cloud from Chile has also caused stunningly beautiful sunsets.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says that “one side effect of the ash cloud in our sky has been one of the brightest and most vibrant sunsets seen in a long time.” See a slideshow of sunset photos here.

See photos from the eruption of Chile's Puyehue volcano. A video of spectacular volcano lightning is below: