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Six Die in Indian Missile Lab Fire

26 April 2002 (All day)
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NEW DELHI--Six people, including two scientists, died yesterday in a fire at India's missile experimentation facility. The fire broke out in the solid rocket propellant section of the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL), in the western city of Pune. The lab, part of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), works on all explosives related to India's missile, nuclear, and conventional arms programs.

Vasudev Kalkunte Aatre, chief of DRDO, said that the accident occurred as scientists were working on chemicals used to make the solid propellant fuel for Trishul, a short-range Indian surface-to-air missile that is still under development. A spark is believed to have set off a fire, in which chemists Kiran Vyas and M. M. Bhalerao were killed. The high-security lab has been closed pending a safety audit, he said, adding that "the accident may temporarily affect morale but would not cause any serious setback to India's missile program."

This is the first fatal accident at HEMRL, which dates back to 1908 but was renamed in 1995. The lab employs 200 scientists and engineers in a staff of 1300. Three years ago DRDO shut down a project to develop an airborne early warning system after an experimental plane crashed near the town of Arakkonam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Eight engineers and scientists on board were killed in that accident.

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