A fire in the hangar of the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Corporation and its academy at the Begumpet airport late Monday night destroyed the chopper used by the chief minister and five trainer aircraft.
By the time the fire was noticed, it had engulfed the hanger and the roof collapsed destroying the chief ministers August Westland helicopter and the trainers.
According to sources, 10 fire tenders from the state fire department and some other fire engines of the air force station at Hakimpet managed to bring the blaze under control after four hours.
Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who was touring Visakhapatnam, ordered an inquiry into the incident on Tuesday.
The Begumpet airport is used by VIPs and occasionally by the Indian Air Force. The chopper that was purchased in 2008 for Rs 65 crore was completely gutted.
While not ruling out sabotage, state Infrastructure Minister G Srinivasa Rao said the fire could have been caused by electrical short circuit. The CM has ordered a high-level inquiry. We will find out what happened, he said.
Andhra Pradesh Aviation officials said that tanks with large quantities of aviation fuel kept in the hangar caught fire and exploded, reducing everything to ashes. Residents of nearby areas woke up around midnight to sounds of explosions as fuel tanks of the aircraft started exploding. There were no casualties.
The government and the chief minister is without a chopper now. A Bell helicopter had crashed in September 2009 killing then chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.