Bangkok airport fire killed one worker

Welding sparks triggered a fire this week that killed a laborer who was working to ready Bangkok's new airport for its long-delayed opening, the transportation minister said Thursday. Three other workers also were hurt in the two-hour blaze that broke out Wednesday in a Thai Airways catering hall at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, east of the capital, when they jumped from an upper window to escape the flames, police said.

The facility is scheduled to open by October. The fire was the latest dose of bad publicity for the airport, which has been plagued by corruption allegations and long delays since it was first conceived in 1960. Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal said the blaze was ignited when sparks from a welding tool ignited nearby debris as a worker was installing an air conditioning unit.

Smoke spread quickly through the air ducts, forcing more than 200 panicked workers inside the building to flee, said police Capt. Bamrung Chuentim, who is heading the investigation. The three people injured were trapped on the building's fifth floor and crawled through air shafts to escape the smoke. They jumped from a second-floor window, breaking several bones in the fall, said Bamrung.

The fatality was a man who died from smoke inhalation at a hospital after being rescued, Bamrung said. Most of the damage occurred on the first floor where the fire started, causing an estimated 20 million baht (US$506,000, or Ђ418,00) in damage, said Thai Airways chairman Somchainuk Engtrakul.

Pongsak told reporters that the site of the fire is about 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) from the main airport complex and would have no effect on continuing construction.

Pongsak also sought to play down Wednesday's comments from his deputy, Chainant Charoensiri, that inspectors had found the airport's main runway needed repairs along 800 meters (yards) of its shoulder. "I personally supervised test flights last month and the runway is strong and up to international safety standards," he said. "There is some chipping on the edge of the runway ... which causes no danger to planes."

When the runway cracks were first made public last year, Chainant said they were not a major problem and would be repaired before the airport's opening. The Suvarnabhumi Airport is meant to take over much of the traffic from Bangkok's aging Don Muang Airport, just north of the capital, reports the AP. N.U.