Chile volcano: Qantas cancels Melbourne flights

Qantas aircraft at Sydney's international airport - 12 June 2011 Qantas said it was trying to contact all passengers affected by ash cloud cancellations

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Qantas has cancelled all its flights in and out of Melbourne, Australia, because of ash drifting over the Pacific Ocean from a volcano in Chile.

Qantas had already cancelled flights to and from Tasmania and parts of New Zealand. Other airlines have also grounded flights in the region, stranding thousands of travellers.

Australian airline Qantas said it was too dangerous to fly through the ash.

The Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano has been erupting for more than a week.

Strong winds have carried the fine particles of ash from the volcano to southern New Zealand and Australia at between 6,000 and 10,600m (20,000 and 35,000ft).

The particles have the potential to seriously damage jet engines.

Ash cloud spreading

Qantas said all its flights to and from Melbourne and Auckland, New Zealand, were being grounded from Sunday evening local time.

All its flights in and out of Tasmania and the New Zealand cities of Christchurch, Queenstown and Wellington have already been cancelled.

Qantas said about 8,000 passengers would be affected by its cancellations.

Smoke and ash billow from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano, Chile (11 June 2011) The volcanic ash is drifting at altitudes of up to 10,600m (35,000ft)

Virgin Australia said it was cancelling 34 domestic flights and one international flight from Melbourne on Sunday.

Budget carrier Jetstar has also cancelled flights within New Zealand and flights from New Zealand to Australia and from Tasmania to the rest of Australia.

Passengers at Tasmania's Hobart airport told ABC news they might be stuck on the island for several days. Ferries from Tasmania to Australia's mainland are booked up for at least two days.

Air New Zealand said it had not cancelled any flights, but was adjusting flight paths to steer aircraft below the ash.

New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority warned that the ash was expected to be detected at the cruising level of aircraft but had not yet been seen below 20,000ft.

"Given that the volcanic activity is continuing, it is expected that New Zealand airspace may be affected by these plumes for at least a week," it said in a statement.

The volcano has already caused severe disruption to flights in South America, with planes grounded for several days in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

It is the first serious eruption of the volcano chain since 1960, when the area was hit by a massive earthquake.

Thousands of people are living in temporary shelters after being evacuated from the area around the volcano.

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