Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fire disrupts international flight schedule at Dhaka airport

  • Golam Mujtaba Dhruba, Staff Correspondent,
    Published: 2017-08-12 00:52:00 BdST


At least 18 international flights have been delayed at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka due to a fire that forced the airport operations shut for several hours.

No casualties were reported in the fire that originated on the second floor of the airport's main terminal building around 1:30pm on Friday, sending huge smoke into the sky and forcing the staff and passengers to vacate the building.

The authorities switched off the power supply and shut the departure immediately when the fire was reported just after Juma prayers amid the pressure of Hajj pilgrims. 

The arrival continued, but many of the passengers had to wait outside the terminal until the aircraft resumed operations around 4:45pm. At least 10 firefighting units worked nonstop to put out the flames around 3pm.

Officials of several airlines said the onrush of passengers following the fire created immense pressure at the check-in and immigration desk.

However, the airport Director Kazi Iqbal Karim played down the disruptions by saying that there were fewer dislocations, even though both the airport website and airlines officials reported the delay in departure. 

"There was no flight disruption due to the fire. Because fortunately, it happened at a time when flights were fewer, so it could not create any problem," he said. 

"Some time was needed for the passengers to come to the terminal. They faced some discomfort due to the smoke, and some had to wait in planes after arrival," he added.

Shakil Meraz, a general manager of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, said seven flights of the flag carrier were delayed due to the fire.

"The passengers could not enter the terminal for security check and to collect boarding pass," he told at 10pm.

"The system was overloaded when the operations resumed."

According to the airport website, at least 18 international flights were delayed from 1:30pm to 9pm.

A Maldivian Airlines aircraft scheduled to leave for Chennai at 4:20pm had to wait until 9pm to fly out.

The other airlines that suffered delay include Thai Airways, China Eastern, Turkish Airlines, Jet Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, Spice Jet, and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

No Emirates Airways flight was delayed due to the fire, its official Kamal Hossain said. But the airport website shows their Dubai-bound flight of 7:30pm left at 8:26pm.

Flights of Novo Air, Wamos Air, Air Arabia, and Silk Way West Airlines were also delayed, according to the website.

Panic, anxiety and sufferings

The second floor of the airport's main building houses offices of Air India, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Qatar Airways and a few other airlines, and reports suggested that the fire had originated from Air India office.

Earlier in the afternoon, an airline employee said the display screen of the airport's auto fire detector showed the text "Fire on Air India floor" as soon as the fire alarm went off around 1:30pm.

A shopkeeper on the floor said at the time that the security personnel evacuated the building when the billowing smoke spread panic among the passengers and employees.

An Ansar member said he heard about the fire when he reported to duty at the exit at 2pm. The driveway on the second floor was already empty at that time.

"We rushed to the floor and saw smoke coming from the Air India, Saudia and Qatar Airlines offices," he said.

One Abdus Sattar witnessed the fire incident and the subsequent chaotic scene when he came to the airport to see off his father who was scheduled to take an 8pm flight to Saudi Arabia for Hajj.

"We came to enter the immigration before 2pm. But people were rushing out of the building. Sometime after that, we saw smoke billowing from the second floor," he said.

Rasheda Sultana, the airport's chief security officer, said the civil aviation security personnel guided the passengers from the terminal building to the driveway when the fire erupted.

Later, 10 units of the Fire Service arrived and joined the airport's own firefighters to douse the blaze after around one and a half hours.

Tajul Islam, an Air India official, said the fire gutted their entire office.

“The lockers, papers and money have been burnt. A Qatar Airways room next to ours has also suffered damage,” he added.

He could not give any clue as to how the fire broke out.

As no one was allowed into the airport after the evacuation, a huge crowd gathered outside the airport, creating traffic congestion at the Airport Road on the weekend.  

Those who came to receive passengers waited anxiously outside for hours. A feeling of uncertainty spread among the passengers who could not enter the airport.

Before the gate opened, a Hajj pilgrim, Mohammad Aslam Uddin, said he came out of the airport and was stranded outside when the fire created panic.

When the arrival entrance opened around 4:45pm, a strong odour from burnt office equipment was still in the air at the airport, Staff Correspondent Faysal Atik said from the scene.

An airport security staff member said Saudi Arabian Airlines and Qatar Airlines offices were also damaged in the fire.

However, the extent of damage was not immediately known.

Probes open

The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh or CAAB has formed a five-member committee headed by its director Saiful Islam to investigate the fire incident.

The committee has been given three working days to file a report, CAAB Public Relations Officer Rezaul Karim said.

The other members of the committee include CAAB Assistant Director Abu Saleh Mohammad Khaled, and Executive Engineer Shahriar Morshed.

Habibur Rahman, a representative of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, and National Security Intelligence representative 'Nani Gopal' are the two other members of the committee, Rezaul said.

The Fire Service has launched another investigation. Deputy Director Debashish Pradhan is heading a three-member committee that has been given seven working days to submit a report.