A cargo consignment of chemicals of low inflammable intensity evaded the multi-level cargo security screening and made its way to a Chennai-bound Kingfisher aircraft at the Cochin airport here on Sunday.
Cargo complex sources said a foul smell, combined with plumes of thick smoke, emanated from a packet kept in the cargo-hold area of the flight IT 2482 while the cargo was being loaded. The packet was immediately taken out of the aircraft, and soon it started smouldering.
On examination, the consignment was found to contain packets of boric acid powder and two 100 ml. bottles of liquid detergent. It was dispatched by a courier company in Kochi on behalf of a multinational company to its laboratory in Chennai.
Officials of the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) confirmed the incident, but denied the reports of the packet catching fire. They said smoke came out much before the packet was loaded into the aircraft. An investigation was under way to ascertain how the object completed the screening procedure and got up to the final point. The officials said the courier company had failed to make a declaration about the contents of the packet, mandatory for any chemical consignment.
The box could have evaded the X-ray scanners, as the equipment was installed essentially for detecting various types of improvised explosives wired to a battery or a timer, they said.
Experts said the smoke and fire could have resulted from a chemical reaction caused perhaps by the presence of certain incompatible materials together in a single packet. Holding CIAL responsible for the incident as it was the ground handling agency for the cargo department here, they said had the packet not been taken out in time, it could have led to a major disaster.
They said the incident was a violation of the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation for the safe transport of hazardous materials by air.
The DGR sets forth specifications for acceptability, packing and related formalities, including the notice to the aircraft captain, before a hazardous material is airlifted.
The flight carrying 36 passengers and a four-member crew later left for Chennai by 9.30 a.m., after a delay of 20 minutes, the officials said. The top officials of the multi-national company and the courier firm have been asked to appear before CIAL for a detailed interrogation.
CIAL apart, various security agencies, including the police and the Intelligence Bureau, have also opened separate investigations.
Later in the evening, a case was registered against the courier company on a complaint lodged by the CIAL's security wing for its alleged negligence in handling hazardous substances. The police said a detailed investigation would be held and action taken against the agencies responsible.