The eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Kelud volcano on Java island has forced airlines to cancel flights and prompted thousands of residents to flee the area.

Airports in Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, Yogyakarta and Solo closed today and the transport ministry issued a flight warning for pilots to avoid passing over eastern Java, said Bambang Ervan, the ministry’s spokesman. Carriers Singapore Airlines Ltd, PT Garuda Indonesia and PT Lion Mentari Airlines said today they have suspended flights to those cities.

“The volcanic ash was so thick, so for the safety of the flights, we decided to shut those airports since this morning,” Ervan said. “The ash has covered the runways.”

The volcano first erupted at 10.50 p.m. local time yesterday, and the country’s disaster management agency asked thousands of local residents to evacuate and stay outside a 10- kilometer (6-mile) radius, spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said today.

The East Java province is home to sugar and coffee plantations, and cigarette factories for PT Gudang Garam, PT Wismilak Inti Makmur and PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna.

Flights between Singapore and Australia may be affected and airlines have been advised to take alternative routes, Ervan said. Singapore Airlines scrapped flights to Surabaya, the company said in an e-mail today. Qantas Airways Ltd. said flights on its Jakarta-Sydney route will be delayed up to 24 hours.

Garuda Indonesia also canceled flights to Malang, a city about 30 kilometers east of the volcano, until at least tomorrow morning, Pujobroto, a spokesman for the airline, said by phone today. Its flights to other destinations are unaffected so far.

In 1982, all four engines on a British Airways Boeing Co. 747 stalled when the plane encountered ash spewed from Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. The plane fell for almost four miles before the pilot was able to restart three engines and make an emergency landing in Jakarta.

With assistance from Kyunghee Park in Singapore. Editors: Neil Chatterjee, Andrew Davis. To contact the reporters on this story: Harry Suhartono in Jakarta at; Berni Moestafa in Jakarta at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at 

Photo Credit: Ash from Mount Kelud covers a Garuda Indonesia airplane at Adi Sucipto airport in Yogyakarta. Dwi Oblo / Reuters