The volcanic ash cloud that brought flights in and out of Europe to a standstill these past two weeks, also left thousands of people stranded, including Dewey Potter, Seattle Parks Department spokesperson.
Potter had been vacationing for a week in the Latin Quarter of Paris when she learned that all arrivals and departures out of Paris and most of the major airports in western Europe had been cancelled due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland that spewed ash across the Atlantic Ocean, conditions that make air travel dangerous. Not unlike the ash cloud that Washington saw in 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted, the particulate from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano hung in the air over the Atlantic and drifted over Europe. Because Eyjafjallajokull was covered by a glacier, the eruption was more propulsive and the ash sailed at a higher altitude. Taking no risks, airlines began canceling flights. According to ABC NEWS, In 1982, A British Airways flight lost all four engines after flying through an ash cloud and got power back only after diving to a lower altitude. In 1989, Alaska's Mount Redoubt damaged a Boeing 747, but it, too, was able to land safely.
Of the 29,000 flights that would normally have gone through European airspace over the week, about 13,000 took place and many delays and cancellations continued.
Throughout the ordeal, Paris saw nothing but blue skies, Potter said. "The sky looked blue to us and it was lovely," she recalled.
Potter went with her two sisters to Paris to visit their niece who was turning 21 and who was studying in nearby Dijon. On April 16, a day before the sisters were scheduled to depart Paris, they received word of the airport closures.
"We had to give up our apartment and on the 17th, we moved from the apartment to a hotel," Potter said. "Once we got over the fact that it was going to cost more money ... We were literally stuck. There was no way to get out."
The sisters had considered taking a train to Madrid, where the airport was open. But trains were booked solid.
The sisters and the niece spent another five days together - springtime in Paris. Potter had called her boss at Seattle Parks to explain the situation.
She went to Parisian cyber cafes to answer work-related email and to check flight updates. By April 22, after Belgium Airlines ran some test flights, the Charles de Gaulle airport had been reopened and Potter and her sisters were on their way.
"I was glad to get back in one piece," she said, adding wryly, "glad to get back to my 850 emails."[[In-content Ad]]