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Pain in the Ash

Claim:   Photographs show an airplane engine damaged by volcanic ash.

REAL PHOTOGRAPHS; INACCURATE DESCRIPTION

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, May 2010]

Here's what happens to an engine when it's flown through a volcanic ash cloud. This is a Cessna Citation (CJ2) that flew out of Germany. Luckily the other engine kept running, although very sluggishly. The volcanic ash from Iceland had a lot of metal in it. As can be seen from the pictures, the ash particles melted and got stuck to internal engine parts.

Not pretty ...

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Origins:   The March 2010 eruption of the volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull glacier wreaked havoc with airline flights for several weeks afterwards, as the ash plumes spewed by the volcano have resulted in repeated shutdowns of European air traffic. The photographs reproduced above purportedly show an airplane that suffered physical damage while flying through an area affected by the volcano, supposedly experiencing the results shown due to "volcanic ash particles that had a lot of metal in them" which "melted and got stuck to internal engine parts."

However, the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) log of aviation accidents includes no mention of volcanic ash in its report on the incident that produced these photos, and the date of the accident (1 March 2010) places it three weeks prior to the initial eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano (21 March 2010):
On March 1, 2010, at 0710 coordinated universal time, a Cessna 525A, German registered D-IEFA, owned by EFD - Eisele Flugdienst GmbH, was damaged when the left engine experienced an uncontained event near Stuttgart, Germany. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the event. The pilot was not injured. The flight originated from Stuttgart, Germany, and was en route to Bremen, Germany.

The German investigators reported that the airplane was en route to Bremen for maintenance. During the climb, the left engine experienced an uncontained event. The flight returned to Stuttgart and landed without further incident.
According to a Cessna vice president of product support (as quoted by Aviation International News), the pictured damage was caused by a known issue with the type of engine used on that plane:
Dramatic photos circulating on the Internet purporting to show a Williams International FJ44-3A-24 installed on a Cessna Citation CJ2+ destroyed by exposure to volcanic ash from the recent eruption in Iceland are "complete fiction," according to Brad Thress, Cessna vice president of product support. The incident occurred about a month before the April eruption, he said.

What caused the damage is a known issue with the engine's diffuser, he said. Williams has already sent a letter to operators warning about the potential for the diffuser to fail.
Last updated:   23 May 2010

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