TODAY   |  April 16, 2010

Volcanic ash keeps U.K. flights grounded

Dense ash clouds from Iceland’s erupting volcano continue to restrict air travel in most of northern Europe. NBC’s Dawna Friesen reports from London’s Heathrow airport.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reach an airfield.

>> nbc 's dawna freezen is at london 's heathrow airport which has been shut down until tomorrow at the very earliest. dawna, good morning.

>> reporter: never has volcanic ash created this level of disruption to air travel . european aviation officials predict 17,000 flights will be canceled across europe today . heathrow airport usually handles about 180,000 people every day. you can see, the radar is still working but there aren't many planes to pick up. all of this having a ripple effect right across the world . hundreds of thousands of passengers affected. from the land of fire and ice , a menacing cloud of ash that's wreaking havoc with air travel . iceland 's volcano gathered strength overnight, spewing still more ash high into the atmosphere, ash that can jam airplane engines . the winds spread it across northern europe in the nordic countries and it creating a huge no-fly zone. germany's frankfurt airport , a major international hub, shut down this morning. only 11,000 flights are expected in european airspace today, compared to 28,000 normally. only one-third of the usual transatlantic flights made it this morning, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers with few options.

>> i guess the trains are all full up, too. maybe i'll have to take a boat or a bus.

>> reporter: the ripple effect is being felt around the world , from new york --

>> i want to go home. i just want to go home now. we have no money to stay out here. i need to rest.

>> reporter: to mexico city . tokyo, and sydney, australia.

>> we had people who were planning to travel today. unfortunately, your arrangements will have had to change.

>> reporter: the volcano lies under a glacier. researchers flying as close as they can have peered into it. molten rock surging up. it is thought to have popped the ice like a champagne cork, the force creating these massive plumes, a mix of rock, sand and glass.

>> if you imagine throwing a bucket full of beach sand into the engine of a big airplane, you can imagine it is not going to do the airplane any good.

>> reporter: in parts of iceland , day has turned to night as the ash rains down. geo physicists are not sure what happens next.

>> this disruption may stop tomorrow but it may continue to disrupt air traffic for weeks or months.

>> reporter: knowing it's all about safety , most passengers are frustrated, but not angry.

>> you have to go with the flow.

>> it suction but it's nature so we can't help it.

>> reporter: there is a glimmer of hope. ireland announced this morning that it is reopening some of its airspace so planes will be able to take off and land in dublin and cork, though the clouds of ash will continue to be monitored so it may close again. no one is sure when all of europe 's skies will be safe to fly over again.

>> dawna friesen at heathrow airport , thank you very much .