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Criminal Investigation Launched Into Airport Fire

April 12, 1996

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ Targeting a construction company and its welders, prosecutors opened a criminal investigation today into an airport fire that left 16 people dead.

Acrid poisonous fumes inside Duesseldorf’s Rhein-Ruhr airport suffocated all 16 victims, officials said. At least 91 people were injured.

Molten drippings from welding work on an outdoor road ramp apparently set ablaze plastic insulation on electrical cables, chief prosecutor Rolf Chanteaux told a news conference. The fire raced along wiring in the arrival hall’s ceiling to the ground-floor flower shop.

Killed in Thursday’s blaze were seven Germans, six French, two Italians and a Briton, police said. The dead included a 7-year-old German boy.

Nine of the injured remained hospitalized today, including two in critical condition.

Germany’s busiest charter traffic airport was closed until Monday. Many planes were rerouted to Cologne-Bonn airport today, causing chaos in the cramped terminal and delays for travelers. Airports at Muenster, Paderborn, Frankfurt and Maastricht, Netherlands, took over other flights.

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

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

One man said he saw flames burst through the ceiling Thursday afternoon and pointed it out to workers.

``All of a sudden people started calling, `Fire! Everybody out!′ Then a dark cloud shot along the ceiling,″ said Guenther Marocke, 71, of Kleve.

Most of the dead were found in a waiting lounge for Air France and in an elevator. The elevator was coming from the parking level and the people inside were overcome by a wall of smoke when the door opened in the terminal, officials said.

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.

Airport director Bernd Rieddorf said fire officials conducted a routine inspection 14 days ago.

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