Airlines set to rescue 1,600 Hong Kong tourists as Bali’s airport reopens after volcanic eruption
A total of 120,000 tourists are stranded on the Indonesian island after Mount Agung eruption on Monday created massive ash cloud
The first of Hong Kong’s 1,600 stranded holidaymakers in Indonesia’s volcano-hit Bali will be rescued on Thursday afternoon as the island’s airport reopened on Wednesday and dozens of airlines commenced the evacuation of 120,000 tourists.
Winds cleared ash clouds away on Wednesday from Indonesia’s second busiest airport and a temporary window opened to start getting travellers off the island as early as Wednesday afternoon.
Local airlines were planning to send planes to pick up the estimated 1,600 stranded holidaymakers. Cathay Pacific would operate one flight to Denpasar airport on Thursday while Hong Kong Airlines would send an additional flight on top of their planned two daily services. A Cathay Dragon flight remained cancelled.
Airlines were unsure if the airport could soon be shut again if wind blows more ash over the airspace, or worse, a major eruption of Mount Agung, which has spewed enough ash into the air to shut down air routes. Officials said a major eruption could occur at any time.
Almost 19,000 mainland Chinese and Hong Kong visitors stranded in Bali as ash from Mount Agung keeps flights grounded
Bali, known for its year-round sunny climes and popularity among foreigners, became a massive waiting area for tourists from the likes of Australia, China, India and Japan as Agung sprang to life leading to the grounding of flights since Monday.
In recent days, large numbers of Chinese tourists and some Hongkongers were evacuated by bus and ferry to the nearest main city of Surabaya as the airport shutdown dragged on.
Australia’s Jetstar and Qantas Airways said on Wednesday afternoon it would send 16 empty flights on Thursday to the Indonesian island to pick up 3,800 of “over 4,000” people left stranded for days.
Despite the airport reopening, most airlines are refusing to take new passengers to the island given the risks of Mount Agung disrupting flights once again.
A spokesman for Jetstar said no passengers were being flown to Bali in the meantime in light of the uncertainty and the potential closure of the airport.
Hong Kong Airlines confirmed it would fly passengers to Bali so they could start their trips.
After days of waiting to leave Bali, Philipp Engelhorn, 49, expressed his relief as he and his two other travel companions, would board a Cathay Pacific flight at 4pm on Thursday.
Amid the earlier confusion, Engelhorn was planning to join one of the 13 hour bus-ferry-bus rides to Surabaya after receiving a text from the airline initially telling him that he had been rebooked on December 26. Surabaya is on Java province about 420km to the north west of Bali.
Travellers are still being urged to cancel or postpone non-essential travel to and from Bali while airlines continue to offer alternative trips in the region. Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon said it would wave rebooking, re-routing and cancellation charges for Bali flights until December 11.
Some 140,000 residents living nearby Mount Agung were forced to evacuate in recent days and months.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse