Gatwick faces possible investigation after Christmas storm disruption

Gatwick Airport bosses were this week waiting to hear if chiefs at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are going to launch an investigation into the Christmas Eve storm chaos which left thousands stranded there.

Big crowds of would-be passengers hoping to fly home or away for Christmas were forced to spend the festive period sleeping rough at the airport as outside, torrential rain and winds buffeted the area.

The River Mole burst its banks, local roads were turned into rivers and parts of Horley, Reigate and Redhill were submerged.

Among the areas worst affected by the rising flood waters were Langshott in Horley, Redhill Aerodrome, where planes were stranded in water, the A23 Brighton Road in Redhill, which in places was covered by deep water, and the A23 at Salfords.

At Ye Olde Six Bells pub in Church Road, Horley, the car park disappeared under floodwaters which poured into the pub's bar area, forcing the cancellation of 150 Christmas dinners and 120 Boxing Day meals.

Powerful winds brought trees down across the area, including in Earlswood, onto the back of a house, and across the road at Reigate Hill.

Firefighters who were on strike because of the Fire Brigades Union's ongoing pensions and conditions dispute with the Government, were recalled to duty as the stormy weather hit.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: “Firefighters have dedicated their lives to public safety and are proud to serve their communities when their safety is threatened.

“Firefighters in Surrey, Kent and across the country are doing a tremendous job in very difficult conditions, and where safety is significantly threatened, have set aside their differences with Government to put the public first.”

Rail travel was thrown into turmoil too with train operator Southern suspending services in the worst of the storm.

Flooding was still causing new problems on the rail network yesterday, with Network Rail saying flooding at Balcombe meant trains were unable to run between Haywards Heath and Three Bridges until further notice. Travellers were already facing journeys of more than two hours between coast and capital due to pre-planned engineering works. The line between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria is closed until this Thursday (January 2) for engineering works to be carried out, with bus replacement services in place.

With the storm causing power outages to many homes, at Gatwick's North Terminal the loss of power forced the cancellation of scores of flights, and put paid to thousands of people's travel hopes.

An airport spokesman said that flooding from the River Mole into airfield substations and into the North Terminal was caused by the heavier than forecast rainfall. A spokesman said the storm marked the worst disruption caused by rainfall that Gatwick had seen in recent years.

Speaking yesterday, he said the storm had not caused a huge amount of damage and said they had “caught up with everything.”

But referring to the CAA's possible investigation into the travel chaos at Gatwick, he said: “There's the possibility of an impending investigation, so we are not legally allowed to give a statement.”

He said the airport's bosses were waiting to hear if an investigation is going to be ordered and when it will be held.

“The CAA will set that date, if there is going to be one,” he said.

A spokesman for the CAA said: “We need to know exactly what happened at the airport. “Once we have that information we can decide if there is any further action we need to take.”

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