Initial probe suggests aircraft fire may have been deliberate

Updated January 29, 2020

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Initially, it was reported that a fire broke out in the bushes near a desolated portion of the airport which spread and engulfed the grounded Boeing 737 of the now-defunct Shaheen Airlines International (SAI). Fire tenders were dispatched to the area which managed to put out the fire.  — Wikimedia Commons/File
Initially, it was reported that a fire broke out in the bushes near a desolated portion of the airport which spread and engulfed the grounded Boeing 737 of the now-defunct Shaheen Airlines International (SAI). Fire tenders were dispatched to the area which managed to put out the fire. — Wikimedia Commons/File

KARACHI: Investigators probing the fire that engulfed a grounded aircraft of a private carrier at Karachi airport on Sunday night believed that the plane was intentionally set on fire, it emerged on Tuesday.

Initially, it was reported that a fire broke out in the bushes near a desolated portion of the airport which spread and engulfed the grounded Boeing 737 of the now-defunct Shaheen Airlines International (SAI). Fire tenders were dispatched to the area which managed to put out the fire.

On Monday, authorities visited the site of the fire, which was far from the runway and where a number of grounded and retired aircraft have been parked for the past couple of years, and found that the fire did not erupt in the bushes but in the aircraft, which was destroyed badly.

Later in the day, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) formed a six-member fact-finding committee to probe the cause — whether it was an accident or arson — as well as to “ascertain the quantum of damages occurred as the result of the fire”.

The CAA said that on Jan 26 at 10:44pm “an incident of fire took place between inner and outer perimeter fence east side of international satellite on barren land near to a location where 12 disabled/junk aircraft of ex-Shaheen Airline International are parked”.

The probe committee, headed by Engineer Taufiq Shaikh of the CAA, has been tasked to submit its report by Jan 30; however, sources told Dawn that initial probe clearly suggested that someone had set the aircraft on fire.

“It is our initial assessment [that the fire started in the aircraft], but what worries us is how could someone enter the highly guarded location and [initially or unintentionally] cause the fire,” said a senior CAA official, on the condition of anonymity.

He, however, said that nothing was conclusive as yet and an investigation into the incident was under way.

The domestic and international operations of SAI were suspended by the CAA in October 2018 owing to non-payment of Rs1.36 billion dues. The CAA had taken possession of SAI planes and grounded them for what they called their poor condition.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2020