Powerful blast damages Zodiac Aerospace factory in U.S., five injured

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 15, 2015 12:06 PM

(Reuters) - A powerful explosion at a Zodiac Aerospace factory in Eastern Washington state on Tuesday night caused five injuries and severely damaged the facility, authorities said.

The blast at a factory responsible for aircraft cabin interiors located in Newport, Washington, broke concrete pillars, blew out windows and ruptured water pipes, said Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief for the nearby city of Spokane fire department, who arrived at the scene after the incident.

"Everything close to where the blast occurred was fractured," Schaeffer told Reuters, describing the blast as far greater than explosions caused by natural gas leaks in homes.

"I've never seen that amount of force exerted on a structure in my career" of more than two decades, he said.

The explosion occurred around 9 p.m. PT (0400 GMT), and was likely caused by a flammable vapor, Schaeffer said. There were about 30 people in the factory when the blast occurred, and all five near the blast were injured, two critically and three seriously, he added.

A local TV station showed pictures of shattered glass, debris and a collapsed ceiling at the low-rise facility close to the Idaho border. News reports said the blast was felt as much as a mile away.

"It was almost like a sonic boom that went through the community," Schaeffer said.

Ruptured pipes sent many thousands of gallons of water mixed with chemicals rushing down streets, Schaeffer said, and emergency crews built a dike to stop the water from reaching storm drains and the nearby Pend Oreille River.

Zodiac, based in Plaisir, France, said in a statement that it was still investigating the cause. "Our first thoughts go to our colleagues who have been injured in the accident and have been evacuated to local hospitals," the company said.

Zodiac is a major global supplier of aircraft seats, interiors and other components, and has come under scrutiny recently for production problems at its cabin interiors and seats factories in the U.S.

The problems caused delays in deliveries of Boeing and Airbus jetliners, and prompted Zodiac to warn recently that its profits would fall short of earlier targets.

Boeing and Airbus said in statements that they were monitoring the situation though it was too early to tell what impact, if any, the explosion would have on their operations.

Zodiac's cabin interiors division is responsible for galleys, lavatories and other structures and components used in aircraft cabins.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in New York and Cyril Almeyerhenzien in Paris; Editing by Alan Crosby)