Ash cloud didn’t stop Limerick father and son seeing volcano

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

TWO years ago this week airports all over Europe were closed due to the eruption of Eyafjallajökull in Iceland.

TWO years ago this week airports all over Europe were closed due to the eruption of Eyafjallajökull in Iceland.

There were fears that planes would drop out of the sky from volcanic ash melting inside the core of modern turbine engines causing irreversible damage.

However, well known pilot Gerry Humphreys, from Brittas, Murroe says it was a complete over reaction.

“There was mass hysteria. Everybody was terrified and everything was grounded. At the time aviation authorities were looking over their shoulders at what everyone else was doing. The first one over reacted and so did the next one. There is an active volcano somewhere in the world every day of he week,” said Gerry.

Some countries even prohibited balloon trips.

“It was totally and utterly ridiculous. Volcanic ash is nasty stuff with very fine silicate abrasive particles that act like three dimensional airborne sandpaper - not the sort of stuff you want to fly through in large quantities - but it is like getting in a bath with a grain of salt in it,” said Gerry.

The former RAF pilot thought this was an opportunity not to be missed so flew with his then 16 year-old son, Harry, and a friend to Iceland in a Cessna Caravan Redbird.

And how did his wife, Victoria, feel about them flying in a tiny plane to see a volcano that had grounded the rest of Europe?

“I think she is used to it by now. I have good a life insurance policy,” laughed Gerry.

They flew from Brittas to Barcelona to collect their friend, then headed to Scotland.

“We weren’t as blasé as you might think. We checked very carefully where the winds were using satellite photographs. The fact that the ash cloud that we had been somewhat cynical about until now was likely to be blowing right in our path, albeit above our planned level, meant discretion was the better part of valour,” said Gerry.

So instead they stayed in Scotland and had some haggis for supper. Weather conditions improved the next day, April 22, so it was on to Iceland.

“We had our first look at the terrifying monster that had the whole of Europe in its grip. I must admit to some trepidation approaching what looked like a cross between a nuclear explosion and a huge Cumulo-nimbus. However, I was confident that as long as we stayed a safe distance upwind we would come to no harm.

“Our first few passes were truly awe inspiring, massive clouds of steam and ash billowed up to 15,000 feet or so and we could hear and feel regular explosions as it appeared more fuel was added to what was already a fiercely burning furnace,” said Gerry.

The posted regular updates to Facebook from the sky with a caption to one photo reading “just seen the entrance to hell”.

The also “went up” on the next two days.

“We never flew through the volcano plume which would have been madness, that would have been dangerous. It is like saying there is a huge bonfire in County Limerick so therefore nobody can go flying,

“We wouldn’t go over it, we would go around the side of it or make sure we were upwind of it,” said Gerry, who has been flying for 35 years.

Apart from when he was in the military he said it was “one of the most memorable expeditions I have done”.

When they got there Gerry expected the sky to be teeming with other adventurers.

“We thought the place would be full of aeroplanes, full of reporters. We thought we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere to stay because everyone would be going along to see one of the wonders of he world.

“When we got there the place was deserted. We would have been some of the very few people from Europe who would have been up to see it,” concluded Gerry.