Updated 10pm

Frustrated travellers remained stranded at Malta International Airport on Monday as Catania airport closed due to the eruption of Mount Etna

Some 135 passengers were redirected to Malta after a scheduled flight from London Southend, supposed to stop off in Catania at 2.30pm, instead flew directly to Malta. 

While another flight from Malta to Catania, en route to Rome, was scheduled to leave at 5.50pm, it was not clear whether the flight would depart.

Passengers told Times of Malta that staff had been unable to give them the information they needed, and variously told them that the flight would leave to Catania a few hours later, that it would be redirected to Comiso airport, which is unaffected, or that it would bypass Sicily altogether. 

Although the flight eventually begun boarding at around 8pm, it had not departed as of 10pm and passengers said nobody had given them any indication whether they would be leaving or spending the night in Malta. 

Earlier, an argument broke out at one point when passengers were advised to fly to Rome and make their own arrangements to fly to Sicily on Christmas morning. 

"We do understand the Mount Etna eruption is an extraordinary event, but we would've expected a better treatment," one passenger said. 

"There are elderly people and a few families with children who, as you can imagine, are very frustrated. Some of the people here started crying as they’ve not seen their families for a very long time." 

An Air Malta spokesman confirmed that no other flights had been affected.

Catania airport closed at around 2pm before reopening a single airspace sector an hour later. The airport's latest update, at around 5pm, was that only one sector remained open, meaning that only four planes could land every hour. 

Mount Etna erupted in the morning sending a huge column of ash into the sky. A chain of around 130 earth tremors rocked the volcano since around 9am, Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology said. There were no reports of any injuries.


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