Thick fog slowed air traffic over Fresno

FRESNO, Calif.

Just a few seconds after takeoff, an MD-80 disappeared into the fog over Fresno. The fog lingered into the afternoon, leaving a low visibility -- even from the height of the air traffic control tower. Radar showed two smaller planes as they hovered over Fresno before the pilots decided to try their luck at landing somewhere else.

"Just looks like a big cloud -- a cloud sitting on the ground," said traveler Andrew Byars, just seconds after landing.

Commercial airlines canceled or diverted four flights to Fresno because of the murky skies. Busy computer screens showed four more delayed flights. One of them -- the United flight from L.A. on which Byars traveled -- arrived more than five-and-a-half hours late.

"Well, it was aggravating," said the Albuquerque native. "I needed to be somewhere at 10 o'clock. That's why I took the early flight, so I could get here earlier. I could've taken the later flight and got here at the same time."

Air traffic controllers say it's easier to take off in the fog than to land. But when arrivals are delayed or canceled, like United flight 6842, it trickles down.

Most of the planes are scheduled to take off again within minutes, but without a plane, there's no flight, leaving Valley travelers grounded.

"I'm probably going to be delayed until the next day because the last flight is at 7 p.m.," said Visalia resident Jose Mendoza, who was traveling through L.A. to Mexico City. "I might make it. I might not."

The fog was even more dangerous on the ground where blinded drivers caused several accidents.

California Highway Patrol officers say a big rig started a chain reaction accident involving as many as ten vehicles at the intersection of Manning and Lac Jac in Fresno County. And officers say visibility was about 200 feet when a car ran a red light at Clovis and Jensen, smashing into two other vehicles.

In the skies, air traffic controllers say even the thickest fog usually lifts by about 2 p.m., but on some days, they're playing catch-up all day.

Case in point: a flight from San Francisco scheduled to land at 3 p.m. was still about 45 minutes away at 5 p.m., hours after the fog lifted.

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