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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Plane fuel is dumped on village

VILLAGERS in Heddon on the Wall have been warned not to eat anything out of their gardens after their homes were swamped by what is believed to be aviation fuel.

Residents living on Aquila Drive awoke on Monday morning to find their driveways and gardens covered in a pungent, sticky substance, thought to be kerosene.

The trail of fuel left behind was around 80 feet long.

Residents have been warned not to touch anything, or to attempt to wash away the substance, because of possible contamination of water courses.

Instead, they have been told to wait until it evaporates naturally.

With villagers worried about what could have happened had anyone been outside smoking when the highly flammable liquid came raining down, an investigation is under way.

Heddon is on the flightpath to nearby Newcastle Airport – but so far no airline has admitted dumping fuel over the village,

One affected resident, Edith Simpson (72), said the liquid must have come from a plane.

“It couldn’t have been anything else, because it’s come across at an angle and gone right into the back gardens,” said the grandmother of one.

“The street was in a terrible state; because it had been raining, everything was in kind of rainbow colours.

“It was in my garden, next door, and in the back garden of the house at the end and on the road.

“The top of my drive was covered and my hydrangea bushes still have a terrible smell.”

Mrs Simpson was out of her house at the time of the incident but received a call from a neighbour, who warned her not to park on her driveway as the fuel could be corrosive.

On rushing home, she found neighbours had already been in touch with Newcastle International Airport and Northumberland County Council, a representative from which came out to check on the situation.

Two fire crews arrived in the village and began to clean the area with hoses. But Mrs Simpson said they later received instructions to stop because of potential contamination of watercourses, and abandoned their clean-up operation.

Mrs Simpson collected a sample of the fuel, which she has passed to the airport for analysis.

“My worry is there’s a school nearby,” she said.

“It could have landed on the children, and, if it had have been the school holidays, my granddaughter, who is turning nine, would have been outside the house playing with her friend.

“It could have been nasty and potentially pretty dangerous.”

She added she would be seeking compensation if her property was damaged in the long-term.

“I just paid £1,300 for two new lawns in April,” she said.

Fuel dumping from planes is rare and usually only occurs after an emergency that has forced the aircraft to return and land at the airport it had taken off from.

In such cases, fuel has to be dumped to shed weight for safety reasons.

Both Newcastle International Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority have launched investigations into Monday’s incident.

Operations director at the airport Larry Heslop said on Tuesday: “Over the past 24 hours the airport team has made investigations into these reports and contacted the six airlines which flew over the small area affected at the time period given by residents.

“Each airline has reported no knowledge of the issue and informed us that all aircraft operated as normal for the rest of the day.

“Newcastle Airport will continue its investigations.”

A spokesman for the CAA said: “An airline has four days to report any safety related incidents to us.

“Generally, if an airline does have to dump fuel, they will try to do it over the sea.

“We will be looking at the situation and discussing it with Newcastle International Airport and the airlines, and hopefully we will get to the bottom of it over the coming week or so.”

Officers from Northumberland County Council’s public protection team were also working with the Health Protection Agency and the Environment Agency on the case.

A council spokesman said: “Residents in Heddon are advised not to touch anything that they believe may have been contaminated with fuel, not to eat any garden produce that may have been affected by the spill.”

Horsley and neighbouring villages lie under the main flight path of aircraft coming in and out of Newcastle Airport.

Also used is an approach which takes them along the North Sea coast.

Craft needing to jettison fuel in an emergency would normally be instructed to take this route.

l Courant Opinion - page 10.

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