A major fire at the Begumpet airport destroyed the State Government’s state-of-the-art Augusta Westland 139 (AW-139) helicopter, along with six other aircraft on Monday night. Sparks due to an electric fluctuation or a short circuit are suspected to have caused the fire. The Crime Investigation Department (CID) launched a full-fledged probe into the mishap.
The agency will also probe whether subversive elements were behind the incident, the first-of-its kind at the Begumpet airport, though police top brass said the possibility of sabotage is minimal. Four cargo planes of the Indian Air Force, in the nearby hangar, escaped the fire. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also launched a simultaneous probe into the accident. The loss has been put at around ` 100 crore; the chopper, used by VIPs including the chief minister, itself costs `63 crore.
Officials said the fire started in hangar no. 3 at around 11.35 pm on Monday and spread quickly, engulfing the planes and the helicopter. Residents of airport neighbourhood told the police that they heard three explosions and saw leaping flames, which the police attributed to the aviation fuel in the planes and the chopper.
Though none was present at the hangar, there were at least two constables and one security guard of AP Aviation Academy at the scene.
However, they were outside, near the hangar entrance. The perimeter of the premises is guarded by the Central Industrial Security Force.
The fire control room received the information within minutes of the fire breaking out and according to the fire department officials, two fire tenders were pressed into service immediately. Subsequently, 14 more fire tenders were rushed to the scene.
Firefighting operations went on till 4.30 am though smoke was billowing from the hangar till morning.
“About 61 firefighters and 15 fire department officers, including director general S V Ramana Murthy, were involved in the operations,” said regional fire officer, Hyderabad, Salim Khan.
“Investigation is being conduced and the mishap will be looked into from various angles,” fire officials said. They, however, suspect a short circuit as one of the causes of fire. There are four hangars at the airport, each 20 feet away from another. Soon after the incident, Indian Air Force officials cordoned off the area.