England fog limits Air Force flights, strands travelers
RAF MILDENHALL, England — A thick fog stranded thousands of passengers at London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, and forced the Air Force’s 100th Air Refueling Wing to limit flight operations out of Mildenhall on Thursday.
Heated tents, sleeping mats and catering stalls were set up to accommodate travelers at Heathrow. Many travelers were affected after British Airways canceled 180 flights, including all domestic and some European services, according to The Associated Press.
“It’s bedlam. The whole terminal is so packed you can barely walk,” said Nicholas Velez, 23, one of about 500 passengers left stranded Wednesday night while trying to return home to Washington, D.C., for the holidays.
Visibility was better at Mildenhall, about two hours northeast of London, but precautions still were being taken.
Capt. Adrian Christensen, flight commander for the RAF Mildenhall combat weather team, said ground activity on the runway continued but at reduced speeds. He said at least two flights were canceled Thursday, but that mission-critical takeoff could still occur.
Christensen said a high pressure ridge sitting over the area has suppressed cold damp air on the ground and combined with light winds to shroud the region in fog that decreased visibility to 400 meters, or about 1,300 feet. Visibility was expected to drop to near zero at night.
Christensen said the forecast calls for the fog to linger through the weekend and to start to lift by Christmas Day.
Officials at RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall reported no traffic accidents as a result of the fog, but issued warnings for motorists to drive with their headlights on and to decrease speeds.
Officials at RAF Lakenheath did not respond to requests for information about its flight operations by Stars and Stripes’ deadline. However, the familiar roar of F-15s flying above East Anglia was absent throughout the day Thursday.
The Suffolk Constabulary, the English law enforcement agency surrounding the military bases, said there have been a few more accidents than normal on local roads, but the fog has not caused any serious wrecks.
In London, about 350 flights have been canceled since Tuesday, when a thick blanket of freezing fog moved in to the city.
“When we flew in last night, you couldn’t see the ground,” said Velez, who had been transferring through Heathrow. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Velez said he saw fights breaking out as people scrambled for places in line and criticized British Airways for its management of the crowds.
Outside Heathrow, visibility reached a low of 377 feet, making runways nearly invisible to approaching aircraft, said Keith Fenwick, a spokesman for Britain’s Meteorological office. Visibility lower than 3,280 feet is generally considered disruptive for flights.
The bad weather was expected to delay flights on Friday as well, putting a crimp in one of the busiest travel days of the holiday season.
Flights at other London airports were relatively unaffected on Thursday, with nine cancellations reported at Stansted and none at Gatwick.
Eurostar reported a 15 percent spike in traffic as frustrated airline passengers boarded trains to get to Paris and Brussels.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.