Bomb disposal experts were today preparing to remove a 500kg World War Two ordnance which grounded hundreds of flights in and out of London City Airport for the whole day.
About 300 arrivals and departures were cancelled, with about 9,000 passengers affected, as the airport was not expected to reopen until Tuesday morning.
It came after the discovery of a “500kg fused” and 1.5 metre long device in King George V Dock, next to the airport, at about 5am on Sunday.
The Met police decided to impose a 700ft security cordon at 10pm, forcing the airport’s closure and requiring officers and Newham council to evacuate residents within the exclusion zone. The council was providing them with emergency accommodation.
The evacuation was continuing today ahead of the arrival of a Royal Navy team, who will attempt to disable and remove the bomb this evening.
The airport said it “hopes” to reopen tomorrow but Newham council said the operation to remove the bomb “is expected to continue until Tuesday morning”.
Scotland Yard said the device has been examined by Met Police and Royal Navy dive teams.
A spokesman said: “It is lying in a bed of dense silt and the first stage of the removal operation is to free the shell from the silt so that it can be floated for removal.
“The operation to remove the ordnance is ongoing in partnership with our colleagues in the Royal Navy. The timing of removal is dependant on the tides, however, at this stage we estimate that the removal of the device from location will be completed by tomorrow morning.”
Newham said officers were assisting with a controlled evacuation of residents in seven streets: Holt Road, Leonard Street, Lord Street, Newland Street, Tate Road, Muir Street and Kennard Street. Some residents refused to leave their homes. Others went to stay with friends or family.
The council said: “Work will not start on lifting and removing the device until the initial 214-metre zone is clear. When work starts to remove it, it is expected the exclusion zone will be extended to 250 metres and more properties will need to be evacuated.” Passengers were advised to contact their airlines. CityJet flights were flying in and out of Southend, while Alitalia was diverting to Stansted.
However, confusion was caused by City Airport’s website this morning as it claimed flights were arriving and departing “on time”.
The bomb was discovered by construction workers 11m under water in the dock, just south of the eastern side of the airport terminal. A series of road closures were put in place. Passengers were unable to remove vehicles from the airport car parks.
The bomb is believed to be even bigger than one which caused days of chaos and the evacuation of more than 1,000 properties in Bermondsey in 2015.
Docklands Light Railway services between the airport and Woolwich Arsenal were suspended.
Robert Sinclair, chief executive of London City Airport, said: “All flights in and out of London City on Monday are cancelled and an exclusion zone is in place in the immediate area. I urge any passengers due to fly today not to come to the airport and to contact their airline for further information.
“I recognise this is causing inconvenience for our passengers, and in particular some of our local residents.”
Airlines using London City Airport include British Airways, Flybe, CityJet, KLM and Lufthansa. The airport is a favourite of business travellers and is undergoing a £400 million expansion so it can welcome an extra two million passengers a year by 2025.
It is currently the 14th busiest airport in the UK with 4,540,000 passengers last year, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The Met said a decision was made with the Navy to implement the exclusion zone “to ensure that the ordnance can be safely dealt with while limiting any risk to the public”.
BA said: “We are doing everything possible to minimise disruption for our customers following the closure of London City Airport.
“We are rebooking customers due to travel today on to alternative flights or offering refunds for those who no longer wish to travel.”
Tottenham Hotspur fans heading to Italy for the first leg of tomorrow’s Champions league last-16 tie against Juventus were among those caught up in the disruption. The club said supporters should contact their airlines.
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