Mysterious flight closed airport

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The skies were blue and sunny, the runways clear of snow and ice, and traffic should have flowed routinely  through Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen (OSL) after a rough winter. Instead, the airport was forced to close on a busy spring afternoon, because of a mysterious aircraft that entered its air space and stayed there.

An otherwise sunny day, free of weather problems at Oslo's main airport, ended up with massive disruption and baffled officials. PHOTO: Espen Solli/Oslo Lufthavn AS

Officials were still unsure Friday morning who was behind the problem that forced aviation officials to redirect all incoming flights for nearly two hours on Thursday, because a small unidentified aircraft resembling a hang-glider or sail plane hovered at 8,000 feet in the middle of the airport’s landing patterns.

As many as 15,000 passengers had their plans ruined, because their flights were sent off to land at outlying airports like Torp and Rygge, or even as far away as Fagernes and Stockholm. Either they missed onward connections from Gardermoen, or wound up far away from their intended destinations. And the lack of incoming aircraft hit departures hard, too.

A spokesman for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Knut Morten Johansen, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday that the disruption also cost the airlines millions “because it affected so many flights and so many passengers.”

It was the crew on board an SAS flight that first spotted the small aircraft at the same elevation that the scheduled airlines maintain on approach to OSL. At first an SAS pilot said it looked like a hang-glider, while later reports called it a sail plane. It was not possible to establish any radio contact with its pilot.

The mysterious aircraft made it impossible for the incoming flights to land, and airport spokesman Jo Kobro of Oslo Lufthavn (OSL) said it hovered in the skies for more than an hour. “After a while, there were many planes in the air, and they had to fly instead to Torp, Rygge, Kjevik (the airport for Kristiansand in southern Norway), Fagernes, and I know that one flight landed at Stockholm,” Kobro said.

Neither OSL, SAS nor police had identified who sat in the small aircraft as of Friday afternoon and caused so many problems for so many people. OSL officials called around to local flying clubs and hang-glider clubs, but their members were allegedly as baffled as the authorities were. Avinor investigators later ruled out reports the aircraft was a sail plane, police regretted not dispatching its helicopter to check out or chase it away from the airport area.

Civil aviation authority Avinor was expected to continue probing the incident. “We are curious to learn what Avinor finds out about whoever it was, who ended up on a higher and longer flight than they perhaps expected,” Johansen of SAS told NRK. He said SAS officials had yet to evaluate whether they would attempt to file any compensation claims.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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