ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Small puffs of smoke were still emanating from the east hangar of regional carrier LIAT (1974) up to 12 hours after a major fire ripped through the facility Sunday night and destroyed millions of dollars in the form of a Dash 8 passenger aircraft, buildings, copies of aircraft and other company records, tools, equipment and many other items critical to its operations.
A well-placed source said the company is compiling an inventory, but it may be days or even weeks before an official figure is attached to the damage, but he estimates it may be over EC $150 million.
Jean Holder – chairman of the 56-year-old company owned by the governments of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent & the Grenadines – thanked God lives were not lost in the inferno behind the VC Bird International Airport.
Reports are that at the time of the incident, the hangar was unoccupied.
Workers who were nearby were alerted to the disaster by an explosion that was closely followed by a second one.
Speaking to OBSERVER Media from his Barbados office, Holder said, “I am awaiting an official report about what happened, what has been destroyed and how the fire started but I have been kept abreast by … CEO Brian Challenger throughout most of the night and today (Monday).
Holder said the incident is no less than “a tragedy” and he thanked the staff for pulling together and working to ensure LIAT’s flights got off the ground yesterday.
LIAT’s management, some who had been on the scene since Sunday night, was engaged in a series of meetings yesterday and employees whose offices were unaffected, worked normal hours.
One of LIAT’s executive board members, Paul Ryan said all hands would be needed on board now to see what, if anything, could be salvaged.
Chairman of the Airport Authority Patrick Ryan, who is LIAT’s former flight operations manager, underscored the importance of technical records.
Technical records, he said, cover the history of each aircraft from the time they were purchased and such records are important for maintenance schedules, resale and other information purposes.
“Technical records, to me, would be the serious matter. All airplanes must have their technical records so one could be able to look back at the history of airplanes at all times,” Ryan said.
Attorney General Justin Simon, QC said LIAT’s in-house Legal Counsel and Company Secretary Diane Shurland briefed him on what went up in flames.
Calling LIAT’s loss a “catastrophe,” he said, “Not only the hangar and aircraft were lost, but also aircraft parts and records from the engineering department so that it is going to create a very major problem for LIAT in respect of ongoing maintenance. And, on the whole issue of records, what I understand from Diane Shurland, is that more recent records are computerised but in terms of historical records, these have been lost and these mean a lot in terms of maintenance.”
Approximately 100 workers attached to the Quality Department, Technical Records or Planning, Production and Material Control section, Engineering, Accounts and other offices were immediately affected by the fire, since their workstations were gutted.
As for the destroyed plane, registration V2-LGH aircraft, Simon said he was informed it was down for a C check (complete check) and it was not on its wheels at the time of the fire.
“When you look into the hangar there is nothing in respect of the aircraft but the skeleton, totally annihilated,” Simon said.
Given the seriousness of the situation, National Security Minister Dr Errol Cort said he visited the scene for a first-hand view while the fire was still raging. He said based on information from officers under his portfolio, firemen from Coolidge Fire Station near the airport responded promptly and colleagues from All Saints and St John’s Fire Stations were summoned to assist.
Dr Cort indicated Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer was off island. There had been no comments from the PM’s office up to press time.
The Police Forensics Unit, Fire Investigation Unit and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) were still on the scene last night working to determine the cause of the fire.
LIAT is also working with the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) as part of the probe.
Efforts to reach the regulatory body proved futile.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)