M A I N   N E W S

Blast in space centre kills 6
SHAR sources rule out sabotage

Chennai/Hyderabad, February 23
Six persons, including two engineers, were charred to death and three injured in an explosion at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, about 120 km from Chennai, this evening.

However, a source at SHAR put the death toll at eight and the number of injured at four. A red alert has been sounded in the high-security complex.

According to SHAR sources, the mishap took place at the Solid Propellant Booster Plant (SPROB), where the Hydroxy-Terminated Poly-Butadine (HTPB), the solid propellant used in satellite launch vehicles, is manufactured.

After casting and curing the highly-inflammable solid propellant, the labourers and engineers were moving a motor to fill the propellant when it caught fire and exploded at about 4 p.m., the sources said.

Under the impact of the blast, the roof of the building, housing the plant, caved in, the sources added.

The plant, one of the biggest in the world, is also one among the oldest and located in a sprawling area of several hundred acres.

After administering first-aid, the injured were brought to Chennai in three separate ambulances and admitted to Apollo hospitals.

Ruling out any sabotage, the sources said a detailed inquiry had been ordered and only after the inquiry, the reason for the mishap would be known. Initial reports doubted the involvement of the outlawed People’s War Naxalites, but SHAR sources ruled it out.

The fire was brought under control, the sources said.

Meanwhile, ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair, who was in Bangalore when the mishap occurred, flew down to Chennai and was on his way to SHAR by road.

SHAR sources said the capacity of the plant was also being augmented to ensure additional propellant required for the GSLV Mark-III flight, scheduled to blast off from Sriharikota by 2007. This vehicle would have two booster rockets, each of which would be powered by 200 tonnes of HTPB, the sources added..

The injured were identified as senior scientists Narayanan (51) and Krishna Prasad (47) and Mr Sachin (27), who had recently joined SHAR as junior scientist.

Talking to waiting newspersons, Dr M. Baskaran of the Apollo hospitals in Chennai said Mr Sachin and Mr Krishna Prasad (47) were in serious condition and Mr Narayanan had suffered 20 per cent burns.

Senior plastic surgeons Dr Sridhar and Dr Ganapathi would be treating them. All the three were given first aid at SHAR, Dr Bhaskaran said.

All the three were conscious and their vitals were stable, Dr Baskaran said adding that they were admitted to the Special Burns Unit in the hospital. — UNI

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