Air passengers 'terrified' as Storm Katie batters UK


Air passengers were left sick and in tears as their flights were battered by Storm Katie packing winds of more than 100mph.

Travellers told how they were left "terrified" and fearing for their safety as planes, hit by powerful winds, aborted landings at the last minute.

More than 100 flights in and out of Gatwick and Heathrow were cancelled or diverted because of the bad weather.

Storm Katie brought gale force winds and heavy rain to large parts of southern and central England, causing travel misery to those returning from Easter breaks.

Dan Prance branded his trip back from Budapest the "worst flight of my life" and said passengers were so relieved when they finally touched down that many burst into tears.

He told the Press Association: "When we approached into Gatwick from Budapest the plane was dropping suddenly and swinging left to right. You could see from the windows there was a massive storm happening outside, the wind and rain was smashing against the glass.

"We got closer to the ground at Gatwick until the captain suddenly aborted the landing and we went shooting back up into the sky to attempt again.

"The captain came on the PA system and explained that the winds were way too strong for this kind of plane to land and he had to abort the landing at the last moment for safety. It was absolutely terrifying."

He said the plane circled for "a further bumpy hour" as air traffic control tried to find space at Stansted for them. They were eventually diverted to Birmingham.

Mr Prance, who works in TV, said: "People then began being ill and sick. We eventually landed complete with a full round of applause and people crying and then discovered that we had in fact touched down in Birmingham, using Google maps.

"It appeared that the captain and crew were reluctant to tell us we were in Birmingham, and repeatedly told us not to use our phones until the captain had made an announcement.

"The whole ordeal was horrendous. I've flown quite a lot and never had anything like it."

Arnon Woolfson, 46, was flying back to Gatwick with his wife and two children from a wedding in Tel Aviv when their plane was hit by the storm.

He told the Press Association that when they boarded "we were told it was going to be hairy and the weather was pretty bad" but the plane, rocked by heavy winds, only pulled out of its landing at the last minute.

He said: "The plane was descending and at the very last minute as we came down it pulled up. It was clearly not going to plan.

"The plane was not just going up and down, it was going sideways. There were a lot of crosswinds - it was a mess.

"There was zero visibility and really, really heavy wind and rain.

"Afterwards I went up and told the pilot 'well done' because it was a tough one. It was pretty hairy - I have been in a couple of aborted landings before and fly a couple of times a week, but it was pretty hairy."

He said his fellow passengers sank into silence as they waited to see if they would land safely.

He said: "There was a lot of silence - there was no screaming but a lot of uncertainty. Everyone was dumbfounded and didn't know how to react."

They were eventually diverted to Birmingham.

Giulia Cortigiano, 28, an office manager, said her flight from Bangkok only touched down at Gatwick on the second attempt after being hit by strong winds.

She said: "It was really, really windy. The pilot tried to land but as soon as it got close to the ground it was so strong he couldn't land. I was terrified.

"People were panicking, somebody was sick. You are sitting there, panicking, and when you hear someone be sick you just think 'Oh my God'."

The pilot managed the landing on the second attempt and the relieved passengers burst into a round of applause, she said.

Ms Cortigiano added: "The wind was really strong, I could feel it in the plane even after we landed.

"You get to Gatwick and all you want to do is get the train home. But the trains were delayed so it took me four hours to get to Peckham in south London."

Around 100,000 homes were hit by power cuts while railway passengers returning home after the long Easter weekend endured delays.

Cranes collapsed, trees were blown over and trampolines upended as Storm Katie swept over Britain.

A Gatwick Airport spokeswoman said 26 flights had been cancelled and 23 diverted, while Heathrow cancelled 61 flights and another 20 were diverted due to "adverse weather".

The Met Office warned that flooding is expected across the South West and issued 136 flood alerts across the country.

Southern Electric Power Distribution said more than 80,000 homes across the south of England had power cuts, although electricity has been returned to around half of them.

And UK Power Network said 19,000 of its households were left without power.

Hundreds of engineers braved the turbulent weather to reconnect homes.

The Dartford River Crossing and M48 Severn Bridge were closed overnight on Sunday because of strong winds, while gusts were so strong a crane in Greenwich, London collapsed.

Trains on the Southeastern railway line were delayed on Monday morning after trees were blown onto the track.

East Midlands Trains also reported disruption on its London St Pancras to Sheffield route, with tunnel flooding closing a section of the northbound line between Derby and Chesterfield in Derbyshire.

In the north Midlands, heavy rain and run-off from sodden fields closed the M6 northbound between junction 13 and 14 near Stafford early on Monday morning, with the southbound drivers urged to use caution navigating standing water.

The Port of Dover closed on Monday morning, and ferries were suspended for a period. It has since re-opened but services including P&O ferries have reported delays.

A car overturned in the treacherous conditions on the M42 near junctions 1 and 2 in Worcestershire in the early hours of Monday, while in Surrey a 12ft trampoline was hurled across a garden landing on a shed.

Drivers were urged to stay off the roads until the storm had passed because of the "horrendous" conditions outside.

The Central Motorway Police Group, which patrols roads in the Midlands, said: "The weather is horrendous outside, heavy rain, snow and lots of standing water. Drive to the conditions or if you can stay in and eat chocy."

The London Fire Brigade said it had been called out to more than 100 storm-related incidents.

The Isle of Wight saw the strongest winds, recording a gust of 106mph, while snow hit the West Midlands last night.

Storm Katie is expected to move north east over the course of Monday, but the heavy wind and rain is expected to ease.