Stunning mid-flight video captures moment total solar eclipse plunges Earth into darkness

Stunning mid-flight video captures moment total solar eclipse plunges Earth into darknessAlaska Airlines

It was a 2,000 mile journey to nowhere, but one that passengers would never forget. As millions of Americans enjoyed their first total eclipse over US soil for nearly 40 years, it was those 38,000 feet in the air aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 9671 that arguably got the best view.

Some 90 die-hard eclipse chasers, or umbraphiles, took their seats on the specially chartered Boeing 737 on Monday (21 August) to chase the moon's shadow as it plunged Earth into darkness.

Taking off from Portland, Oregon at 7.20am local time (3.20pm BST), the aircraft headed out across the Pacific Ocean as the sunlight bounced off the clouds below.

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It was at around 9.40am that the moon could first be seen encroaching on the sun, before passengers were put in darkness around 20 minutes later.

A video of the moment the plane finds itself in the eclipse's "path of totality" saw passengers take off their special blackened glasses as the moon's shadow engulfed the aircraft and the Earth below.

Unlike the total darkness experienced by those on the ground, those above the clouds could see the shadow's outline clearly either side.

Dennis Cassia, a retired high-school teacher and firefighter from Connecticut, has seen four previous total solar eclipses from the ground.

"Once you've seen one, you're going to want to see another," he told the Seattle Times.

"On the ground, within the moon's shadow, it is dark. You can see stars. From the airplane, you see the shadow, but you are high enough that you get to see the regular sky on either side. It didn't really get dark because you have the light from left and right.

"It's a completely different experience."

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As well as competition-winners and regular eclipse chasers, the passenger manifest also included astronomers and a NASA astronaut.

The five-hour flight took a great deal of planning, with Alaska Airlines Captains Brian Holm and Hal Anderson working with astronomer Glenn Schneider to calculate the best altitude and flight path for the most spectacular view.

The plane spent less than two minutes in totality as the moon's 60-mile shadow took 90 minutes to race across the North American continent at thousands of miles per hour.

The aircraft landed back in Portland at around 12.30pm.

Lucky passengers on other flights which happened to pass through the moon's shadow also posted videos of the event online.

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