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LPG role ruled out in Big Mac blow-up

Calcutta, Aug. 18: The blast that rocked McDonald’s and claimed a life on the morning of August 12 could have been an act of sabotage.

What was being discussed for a week in hushed tones on Park Street was articulated today by a fire expert, who rub- bished police claims that an LPG leak had caused the explosion.

“I don’t rule out the possibility of malafide intentions. LPG was certainly not the cause,” Pratik Kumar Chatterjee, an ONGC adviser on fire, told The Telegraph after inspecting the Park Street eatery shut since the blast last Sunday.

The former director of the Defence Institute of Fire Research, under the ministry of defence, was brought in by McDonald’s today.

“We’ve sought an opinion from an independent and experienced fire expert to understand the exact cause behind the incident,” said an official statement from McDonald’s India (North and East).

Hours after the blast, police had blamed it on “pressure building up inside the AC ducts”. On Monday, “congestion in the AC ducts caused by dust” was the culprit, and on Tuesday police declared that “the leak of LPG” had caused the explosion.

Chatterjee, who spent an hour at the five-month-old McDonald’s address, ruled out the latest theory. “LPG is an easy victim. The cause of the explosion cannot be LPG as no one smelt it, there was no carbon deposition, the source of leakage and occurrence of the explosion were more than 12 feet apart (LPG being heavy, the explosion would have occurred near the ground),” he said (see box).

Forensic experts working on the case today refused to be drawn into the LPG debate. “Our examination is incomp- lete. We have revisited the site, collected samples and put them to test. The police have carried out their own investigation and their findings have nothing to do with ours. We are considering several factors and we need time to reach a scientific conclusion,” said Dhurjati Sengupta, the state forensic laboratory director.

The police, however, stuck to their LPG guns. “Central forensic experts have said there was a leak near the main burner leading to the blast. We will get the details on Monday,” a senior officer said.

So what caused the blast' Chatterjee, who was with the ministry of defence since 1972 before joining ONGC, felt the investigation team should probe “malafide intentions” and “the possible use of Molotov” as a method of destruction.

Molotov in its simplest form is a bottle of liquid fuel with a fuse consisting of a fuel-soaked rag held in place by the bottle’s stopper. It is hurled for impact but can also be ignited.

The possibility of methane gas forming from sewage was also not entirely ruled out by Chatterjee, though he put the probability at “one in 10 million cases”.

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