Sydney Airport was brought to its knees today after smoke was detected inside the air control tower.
All air traffic controllers were evacuated around 11.40am and firefighters from Air Services Australia and NSW Fire and Rescue rushed to the scene after reports there was a fire inside the tower.
An Air Services Australia spokeswoman told news.com.au a full ground stop was initially put in place meaning no planes were landing or taking off.
The control tower was back up and running just before 1pm today with arrivals beginning to be processed and planes taking off.
“There will be an ongoing impact on the network but we are trying to facilitate as best we can. Passengers are advised to contact their airline for more details about the status of their flight,” an Air Services spokeswoman said.
UPDATE 1:19pm – We are fully back to operations at Sydney Tower. Departures are running smoothly. All restrictions lifted. @SydneyAirport
– AirservicesAustralia (@AirservicesNews) March 29, 2019
A Sydney Airport spokeswoman said domestic flights were facing delays of up to 60 minutes and international flights were facing delays of up to 80 minutes.
NSW Fire and Rescue Superintendent Bryce Jonas told news.com.au firefighters were called to reports of a “nasty, electrical burning smell” in the air traffic control tower just before 12pm today.
“The area has been deemed safe to return and everything is getting back to normal. We’re leaving it in the capable hands of Air Services Australia,” Mr Jonas said.
Staff have been given the all clear to return to the tower.
A malfunctioning battery pack, attached to the tower’s computer system had started to smoke at 11.40am today on the first level of the building, causing the fire alarm to go off.
Twenty people were evacuated from the building as Fire and Rescue used thermal imaging technology to find the source of the smoke.
“The internal components of the battery pack system had started to smoke which created that nasty, electrical burning smell,” Mr Jonas said.
An electrician has been called to get rid of the smoking battery pack and Fire and Rescue were on scene to test the air quality and make sure the component did not catch alight.
Mr Jonas praised the air traffic control workers for evacuating the building.
“Regardless of how important their job is of running the airport, human lives are much more important,” he said.
“They did the right thing.”
Air traffic controllers from Victoria have been assisting Sydney Airport and helping some planes land.
Airlines are in the process of notifying its passengers about delays as hundreds more are still sitting on the tarmac and waiting for their planes to take off.
Jeremy Scott was one passenger still stuck on a plane.
“When you’re on the tarmac @SydneyAirport about to take off for holidays and the pilot announces a fire in the control tower, everyone’s been evacuated and airport in lockdown #badvariance,” Mr Scott wrote on Twitter.
In an update, Mr Scott said the pilot had again spoken to his hundreds of passengers and admitted he “hadn’t heard from the control tower”.
Andrew Dunkerley, who was scheduled to depart Sydney on at 10.15am flight to Los Angeles with Virgin Australia, said he’d been on the plane for an hour.
“[We] haven’t been told much. Smoke apparently in the control tower so it was evacuated. Have been on the plane for about an hour now. Nothing taking off at present but the odd plane landing.
“I was meant to take off at 10:15 originally but was delayed before this happened to 11:30 and then we got caught in this.”
Mr Dunkerley said kids on his flight were starting to get restless, as his plane continued to be stationed on the tarmac
“There’s no update as to a possible departure or anything,” he said.
“Some planes are landing but haven’t seen anything take off.”
Status screens in Sydney Airport are also informing waiting passengers there are delays.
“Flight delayed due to Sydney Tower evacuation,” the screens read.
Flight maps showing where planes are near Sydney showed dozens of aircraft sitting and waiting on the tarmac.
Another flight status map showed some planes being forced to do circles and weaving up and down the NSW coast.