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Prosecutors Investigate Possible Negligence As Cause of Deadly Blaze

April 12, 1996

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation Friday into whether welders’ negligence caused a fire that swept through an airport, producing poisonous fumes that killed 16 people.

Chief prosecutor Rolf Chanteaux said that dripping, molten metal from welding work on a road ramp apparently set ablaze plastic insulation on electric cables, along which the fire traveled into the airport terminal Thursday afternoon.

Prosecutors were investigating whether the construction company and its welding subcontractor could be charged with negligent homicide and arson by negligence, Chanteaux told a news conference. He refused to identify the companies.

Prosecutors also were checking whether the airport officials violated fire regulations, he said.

Duesseldorf’s Rhein-Ruhr airport, Germany’s busiest charter airport, was closed until Monday, forcing airlines to reroute about 1,500 weekend flights to airports in Cologne-Bonn, Muenster, Paderborn, Frankfurt and Maastricht, Netherlands.

German President Roman Herzog expressed condolences to the victims and their families. Federal government offices lowered flags to half-mast Friday.

The fire apparently spread unnoticed along the cables between the first and second floors of the terminal before bursting through the ceiling near a ground-floor flower shop.

Most of the dead were found in an Air France waiting lounge and in an elevator that was filled with thick smoke when the door opened in the terminal.

All of the dead suffocated on the acrid poisonous fumes, Chanteaux said. They were identified as seven Germans, six French citizens, two Italians and a Briton.

Airport officials said the first alert to the city fire department went out nearly 30 minutes after the first signs of a blaze were reported, but they rejected any suggestion that they responded slowly.

The airport, built in 1975, was not equipped with sprinklers in the area where the fire started or smoke detectors in the space between the floors where the blaze spread, but airport director Bernd Reitdorf said that it complied with all codes at the time it was built.

He said fire officials conducted a routine inspection two weeks ago.

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