WHEN THE NORTH-WEST WIND BLOWS
Volcanic ash and flying Brits
As with all rapid response assemblies, you may need to bring this up to date.
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To explore the impact on thousands of lives of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Preparation and resources
None, although you might find the following helpful:
- Ask the children to take a look around the assembly space. Are there any children or teachers who aren’t here today? Do they know where these people are?
- Highlight those who are stranded abroad because of the flight ban over UK airspace. Ask: ‘Do we know which country or place the missing people are in?’
- If you don’t have missing children/staff, ask: ‘Have you seen reports on the TV about people who are stuck abroad?’
- Discuss with the children why these people can’t get home.
On Wednesday, 14 April, many miles north-west of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a volcano in Iceland erupted. (Explain how a volcano erupts and the impact it usually has on the local area.) The ash plume that the volcano spewed out reached 11 km into the air, and a north-westerly wind has blown the ash over Europe. The ash cloud has been high above us since the 14th.
The problem with the ash is that, if jet planes fly though it, it can enter the engines, become molten glass and cause the engines to stop, sometimes resulting in irreparable damage. The plane then loses all its power and may not get the power back. This would cause the plane to crash, and that would be disastrous.
Back in 1982, the engines of two planes seized up after they flew through a cloud of ash. British Airways and Singapore Airlines jumbo jets flying high over Indonesia both experienced total lack of power in their engines. Fortunately, as the planes descended, the engines restarted and the pilots were able to land them safely. The planes were lucky to come through but a huge amount of damage had been caused.
No one wants an air crash or for massive damage to happen to planes as they travel through the ash cloud, so the airspace over us has been empty now for (almost a week). This has left people who were away from home stuck in their destinations. You may have seen people on the TV or heard them on the radio talking about getting home. Gary Lineker, the presenter of the BBC’s Match of the Day, and his family were on holiday in Tenerife, an island in the Canaries, just off Africa. They managed to get a flight to Madrid in central Spain, then they hired a car and drove all through Spain and France to Paris, which took almost a whole day. They then managed to get a Eurostar train back to London and he arrived at the BBC just hours before he was due on the programme. Many other people have hired cars, taxis or even coaches to get them to a port for a ferry back to England.
Flights from Europe take up to four hours but some people have travelled for two or three days to get home! Even soldiers coming home from Afghanistan have been stuck in Cyprus. People who are further away can’t get back by boat. American airports have thousands of people waiting for flights. Across the world, huge numbers of people are unable to go where they want because of the ash cloud.
- Talk about the other consequences of the ash cloud.
This will start to affect us all soon. Much of our food is flown in from far away. Families who work at airports, or with materials that are flown in, have no work to do. People who are stuck abroad can’t get back to work. The impact is far greater than it might have seemed when this all started.
- But it’s good to stop and think about flying and the great benefits that it brings. We tend to be careful now about flying because of the impact on global warming, but flying is an amazing accomplishment, and one that has made the world a much smaller place. Think of events that you may have been to, holidays and trips, which you flew to. The ability to cross the whole planet in just a day is fantastic and is very recent in human history. We eat food that previously was never eaten in this country, people can share knowledge and experience through international conferences. Flying brings families together, widens our experience of life, and means that we can now see places our great-grandparents only dreamed about.
- Flying is an outstanding human achievement. Sometimes it’s only when we stop doing something that we realize the impact that it has on our lives. As the saying goes: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Time for reflection
Light a candle and pause.
We think about the amazing accomplishment that flying represents:
the engineers who design and build planes;
the people who fly them, and those who care for the passengers on every trip;
and all the people who work at airports.
We think about people stuck abroad:
families who just want to get home;
people who’ve missed important events because they couldn’t get somewhere;
people who are unable to work because of the ash cloud.
We give thanks that the volcano hasn’t caused major problems for people living near it in Iceland.
And we give thanks, too, for the way that people stuck abroad have been helped by strangers and those whom they’ve never met before.
Thank you for the ability that we have developed to fly.
We remember all those waiting for the wind over Europe to change, and the ash cloud to be blown back towards the north, so that our airspace can reopen.
Help all the people who are stuck to be patient. May they encounter goodwill and kindness from those with whom they are spending time.
‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)