Volcanologists Warn Kilauea Ash Plumes Over Hawaii Will Last Weeks, Dangerous To Aircraft Engines
A daunting plume of blackened ash, like the one that soared more than two miles above Kilauea on Tuesday, hasn't been seen over the nation's most active volcano in nearly a century.
But the volcano is no Mount St. Helens.
Volcanic ash will likely pour out of the magma-sputtering Kilauea for weeks, according to volcanic experts, rather than an explosive eruption similar to what killed 57 people and blanketed the Pacific Northwest with ash in 1980.
"This isn't going to stop anytime soon," said Michael Poland, a scientist at the USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.
Powerful eruptions in 1924 similarly shot towering clouds of ash into the sky for more than two weeks. The difference between the century-old volcanic activity and the one destroying homes with devastating lava flows, the ash is impacting airspace.
Ash fall and volcanic air pollution from Kilauea was reported as far as 18 miles away on Tuesday. It was enough for the U.S Geological Survey to steer sky-high tourists and commercial airliners away from the dangerous plume with the elusive red alert.
The caution is usually reserved for the country's most remote volcanoes in Alaska. It warns that a "major volcanic eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected with hazardous activity both on the ground and in the air," according to the agency's Volcano Alert Level and Aviation Color Code.
In this case, Poland says the biggest threat is to air traffic.
"Even if you have a volcanic eruption that doesn't harm any community, it can still kill," Poland said. "We don't want to be putting people in airplanes in unnecessary risk."
Ash is especially hazardous to aircraft engines, Poland said, citing two brazen flights that hurdled through similar volcanic plumes in Indonesia and Alaska.
Coasting through a cloud of ash emanating from Alaska's Redoubt Volcano nearly caused the Tokyo-bound KLM Flight 867 to plunge into the snow-capped Talkeetna Mountains in 1989. After losing power, the jumbo jet began to fall more than two miles with 231 passengers on board. The quick-thinking pilots managed to restart the ash-choked engines and land safely in Anchorage. The engines, however, were ruined.
The same thing happened to British Airways 747 in 1982 after flying near the erupting Mount Galunggung in Indonesia.
The aircraft descended five miles after losing engine power. The pilot, again, restarted the engines before it was too late.
The lessoned learned, according to Poland, "Volcanic ash and aircraft don't mix." ___
This article is written by Nicole Hensley from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.