Estimated loss put at Rs. 90 crore; no one injured in inferno which raged for four hours

The AgustaWestland helicopter owned by the State government and six trainer aircraft were destroyed in a major fire that broke out in a hangar at the Begumpet airport here late on Monday night, causing an estimated loss of at least Rs. 90 crore.

Providentially, no one was injured in the inferno that raged on for four hours before over a dozen fire tenders brought it under control in the early hours of Tuesday. The cause of the fire, which broke out around 11.35 p.m., is under investigation, though initial reports attributed it to electrical short-circuit.

The intensity of the fire was such that the hangar, constructed during World War II, caved in. Four Cessna aircraft being used for pilot training by the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy, besides a grounded Learjet, a Pushpak and the helicopter, used by the Chief Minister, were destroyed. Aviation equipment and other material too were burnt.

Two other hangars used by the Indian Air Force were not affected, while hangar three, used by the academy for training, bore the brunt of the blaze. Security guards posted at the entrance of the airport first noticed the flames and alerted the fire station. Two fire tenders rushed there, while five more vehicles from the Air Force Station, Begumpet, and 10 from other parts of the city arrived at the place.

People living near the airport claimed to have heard explosions too. Captain S. N. Reddy, Chief Executive Officer of the Aviation Academy, said two policemen and a security staff of the academy were on night duty but none was inside the hangar.

“Seventy-five per cent of the hangar was aflame by the time we reached there. We immediately took action to prevent flames from spreading to the other hangars,” a fireman said.

Firefighting operations became difficult as refined petrol used for the Cessna aircraft and aviation turbine fuel (ATF) in the helicopter fuelled the flames.