The propeller-driven six-seater churns straight toward the brown plume over Eyjafjallajökull, unlike other aircraft taking off from Reykjavík airport. Inside, accompanied by a seasoned pilot, sits Björn Oddsson, a graduate student at the University of Iceland, entrusted with an infrared sensor derived from military bombing systems. But the only bombs Oddsson talks about are the lava boulders erupting from the volcano 80 miles away.
As they approach the volcano Oddsson opens the window so that the infrared sensor can function properly. A frigid wind whips in, chilling the cabin to near-Arctic temperatures, but Oddsson doesn’t mind; he is focused on calibrating the temperature scale on the device. The sensor, which looks like a video camera, is still relatively new and he’s eager to get it right. His supervisors expect him to report his findings at a briefing the next afternoon, April 19, the sixth day of the present eruption.