Hyderabad, Dec 18: Five aircraft and a helicopter, which flies the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, were gutted in a major fire at old Hyderabad airport late Monday night, officials said Tuesday.
There are no reports of any casualties in the fire that broke out around midnight at the maintenance shed of Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy at the airport located in the heart of the city at Begumpet, popularly known as Begumpet airport.
Minister for Ports and Airports G. Srinivasa Rao told reporters Tuesday that five trainee aircraft of the academy and an Augusta Westland helicopter of the state government were destroyed in the fire.
The 15-seater Augusta AW 139 was purchased by the state government in 2008 from Augusta Westland Italy for Rs.63 crore.
The minister said the chopper was insured and the government would claim the money.
Ten fire engines battled the blaze for over four hours to bring it under control.
The fire fighting personnel remained at the scene Tuesday morning to completely douse the blaze.
The airport was being used for non-commercial purpose since 2008 when the new airport became operational at Shamshabad, about 30 km from the city.
Besides, the Aviation Academy, the Begumpet airport is used for VIP flights, private chartered aircraft and by the Indian Air Force.
Media persons were not allowed inside the airport area and the officials were also tight lipped about the exact damages or what triggered the inferno.
The huge flames and explosions spread panic among people in Bowenpalli and surrounding areas in Secunderabad.
The state government has ordered a high-level probe into the incident.
The home secretary will head the investigations to find out if there was any sabotage or it was only an electrical short circuit, said the minister.
Several parts of other aircraft and equipment kept at the hangar were also destroyed.
"Everything is reduced to ashes," said an official after visiting the site.
The presence of large quantity of aviation fuel made the task of fire fighting more difficult. Eye witnesses said within a few seconds, the fire engulfed the entire area.
The minister said they would make alternate arrangements for the chief minister's travel.
Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who is currently visiting Visakhapatnam, was using the spacious helicopter, which can fly long distance and also has the provision of power point presentation.
His predecessors K. Rosaiah and Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy also used to fly in Augusta AW 139. Though it was purchased during Rajasekhara Reddy's tenure, he was using both the new one as well as Bell 430.
Reddy was killed on Sep 2, 2009, when the Bell helicopter crashed in bad weather in Kurnool district.
Augusta was also used for rescue and relief operations in the floods in Kurnool district in 2009 and after the Maoist attack on policemen in Andhra-Orissa border area.