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Volcano crisis: Ministers consider Navy help

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 18 April 2010

Tens of thousands of flights cancelled, millions stranded and an emergency government meeting in the middle of a general election campaign. Roz Upton and Keme Nzerem report on the escalating ash crisis.

A cloud of volcanic matter rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland. (Credit: Getty)

The ban on UK flights because of the Icelandic volcano ash cloud has been extended another day as the huge cost to the travel industry increases and fears grow the disruption could go on for weeks.

The continued restriction of flights within UK airspace was announced by air traffic control company Nats.

An 85-minute emergency government meeting then took place at Downing Street, after which ministers gave a joint statement to reporters - conceding that they might have to call in help from the Royal Navy.

Led by Lord Mandelson, they said everything was being done to try to help the thousands of Britons stranded abroad.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said that following advice from the Met Office it had been concluded that it would "not be safe for flights across most of northern Europe to take place tomorrow."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband added: "I'm very pleased the Foreign Office's network of consular officials are able to explain the kind of rights travellers have.

"They're also able to provide particular local information for passengers with particular needs."

Know your rights: advice for stranded passengers

But Channel 4 News has learnt of increasingly difficult conditions for UK citizens unable to get home from countries outside the EU.

Chris Thurmott got in contact to describe the tense situation in Russia.

He said: "My girlfriend and several other passengers on their way home from Bangkok are now stranded in Moscow due to the ash cloud.

"They have not been allowed their bags and so have been in the same clothes and without toiletries or in some cases medication.

"They were only allowed to stand on a balcony for 15 minutes, for the first bit of fresh air since Thursday, earlier today.

"They are being treated as if they are prisoners because they do not have visas."

Ash movement
Air traffic control operator Nats said: "Conditions around the movement of the layers of the volcanic ash cloud over the UK remain dynamic.

"We are maintaining close dialogue with the Met Office and with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in respect of the international civil aviation policy we follow in applying restrictions to use of airspace."

Nats added: "We are working closely with government, airports and airlines, and airframe and aero engine manufacturers to get a better understanding of the effects of the ash cloud and to seek solutions.

"We will, of course, continue to make best use of any breaks in the ash cloud to offer opportunities to airlines as they arise."

British Airways, Flybe and BMI have also cancelled all flights until at least Tuesday.

Test flights
Some airlines, including BA, have begun carrying out test flights to find out what sort of danger the ash could really pose. 

KLM, Lufthansa and Air France all say initial results have not shown any adverse effects.

However it is feared the ash could drastically cut engine efficiency, meaning the aircraft would burn more fuel for the rest of its life.

In the UK, tests are being carried out by a team of scientists operating from Cranfield Airport in Bedfordshire.

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