Reopened Bali airport closes again

Mount Raung spewing volcanic ash in the regency of Banyuwangi, East Java, yesterday.
Mount Raung spewing volcanic ash in the regency of Banyuwangi, East Java, yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Airline ground staff helping passengers whose flights were delayed at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport yesterday.
Airline ground staff helping passengers whose flights were delayed at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Wind pushes volcanic ash cloud back to resort island, leaving thousands stranded during peak holiday season

DENPASAR • Ash spewing from an Indonesian volcano forced the Bali airport to close again yesterday, just a day after it reopened, causing fresh travel chaos for weary holidaymakers stranded on the island.

The airport was reopened at 4pm yesterday.

Mount Raung on the main island of Java has been erupting for weeks and, on Thursday, a cloud of drifting ash forced the closure of the Bali airport during peak holiday season, and four others elsewhere.

The airport in Bali, a top international holiday destination that attracts millions of foreign tourists every year, reopened last Saturday as the ash drifted away, allowing some passengers to board flights home and others to arrive.

But yesterday morning, the Transport Ministry announced that wind had once again pushed the cloud over the resort island and that the airport was being closed again until at least 4pm.

Many passengers were surprised by the new closure.

"Someone just said the airport was closed for at least six hours... gotta be kidding," said one stranded tourist, Mr Steve Dunthorne, on Twitter. "Staff look as confused as passengers," he added.

Indonesian passenger Dwi Anggoro had already checked in for his flight to the central Java city of Yogyakarta when the announcement was made.

"Instead of going back, I'll just stay here and wait for developments," he told Metrotvnews.com website. An airport on Java island serving domestic routes was also closed, he added.

The other three airports closed last Thursday, including the international airport on popular Lombok island, east of Bali, are now open.

Australian carriers Jetstar and Virgin said that they were cancelling some flights to Bali yesterday, while Indonesian flag carrier Garuda confirmed that all its flights would be suspended until 4pm.

The flight disruption comes at a bad time, with many Australians stuck in Bali after heading there for a school break and millions of Indonesian tourists setting off on holiday ahead of the Muslim celebration of Hari Raya next week. The closure has caused chaotic scenes at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport, with thousands of stranded holidaymakers packing the terminals, anxiously staring at the departure boards, and sitting and sleeping on the floor.

About 300 flights to and from Bali were cancelled last Friday.

Australia's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said winds were expected to blow the ash cloud away from the airport overnight or today.

The authorities raised the alert status of Mount Raung, a 3,300m volcano, to the second-highest level late last month after it began to spew lava and ash high into the air.

Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, which sits on a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean and is home to around 130 active volcanoes, the highest number in the world.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Reopened Bali airport closes again'. Print Edition | Subscribe