Sparks due to an electric fluctuation or a short circuit are suspected to have caused the major fire at the Begumpet airport, destroying the state government’s state of the art Augusta Westland 139 (AW-139) helicopter, along with six other aircraft on Monday night, even as 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, what with a tight security cover in and around the airport. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also launched a simultaneous probe into the accident.
Luckily, four cargo planes of the Indian Air Force, in the nearby hangar, escaped the fire. The loss has been put at around Rs 100 crore; the chopper, used by VIPs including the chief minister, itself costs Rs 63 crore.
Officials said the fire started in hangar no. 3 around 11.35 p.m. Monday and spread quickly, engulfing the planes and the helicopter. Residents of airport neighbourhood told 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 no one was present at the hangar, there were at least two police 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 (CISF).
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 firetenders 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 SV 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 and did not allow even local police to enter the premises.
Police said besides fuel in the planes and the chopper, some spare parts and other material were stored in the hangar, which were also gutted.
The destroyed planes are: Two Cessna 152s, two Cessna 172s, one grounded Learjet-24 and another grounded aircraft Pushpak. The cost of each plane is around Rs 3 crore, sources said.
“The hangar, constructed during the Nizam era, was also destroyed. The equipment and material there were reduced to ashes,” an official of the AP Aviation Academy said.
Taking a serious view of the fire, chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who is currently touring Visakhapatnam district, directed the officials to visit the spot and conduct a thorough probe. Following this, additional DGP (CID) T Krishna Prasad visited the scene along with a 15-member team and started investigation.