The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Serial deaths in hi-tech plant

Sriperumbudur/Mumbai, Dec. 8: Three engineers and a contract worker dropped dead in succession at a state-of-the-art sewage plant in Hyundai’s car factory last night, possibly suffocated by gases released during a test run of newly installed machinery.

Site engineer Anandan Maran, 33, was the first to choke inside a six-metre pit into which he descended to test the machinery, setting off a chain of events that snuffed out the lives of three others, police sources said.

Electrical engineer Mohang Hingne, 25, followed Maran into the pit after getting no reply from him for a while. Then chemical engineer Shirish Garate, 22, went down as there was no word from Hingne either.

Wondering what could be keeping the engineers for so long, contractor Muthu, 40, went down too. But a deathly silence followed him.

By then, engineer Santosh Gowda had grown panicky. Unthinkingly, he rushed into the pit but was hauled up with ropes by site workers who had got wind that something was terribly amiss.

Sources said the killer lurking at Hyundai’s Irrungattukottai factory, 40km from Chennai, was most likely to be a mixture of methane and hydrogen sulphide gases given off by the used water and waste flowing in a sewer below it.

The fire services personnel at the plant pulled out the bodies today. The engineers were employees of Pune-based Thermax Ltd, which was commissioning a second sewage treatment plant at the factory. Muthu was probably engaged by Hyundai.

This is the first major accident in the complex since Hyundai started production five years ago. But it is ironical that methane deaths, known to happen in remote villages while wells are dug, should occur in a modern facility.

The plant, to be operational by January 2008, is almost complete. It will handle the sewage from a second manufacturing facility of the South Korean auto major coming up in the same complex.

Thermax and Hyundai Motor India Ltd issued a joint statement confirming the accident but declined comment on the cause of the deaths.

“It is too premature to hazard a guess on what exactly caused the accident. What we know is that a group of four entered the holding tank area in the sewage treatment plant and were impacted by some chemical formation or gas,” Thermax executive vice-president, human resources, Sudhir Sohoni said over phone from Chennai.

Sohoni said Maran, who was from Chennai, was “a very experienced staffer and knew all safety procedures”.

Hingne was from Pune and Garate from Chandrapur in Maharashtra. Muthu was from Tamil Nadu. Gowda, who is recuperating in hospital, is from Orissa.

Thermax, which has had a good safety record so far, has flown in the victims’ families.

A spokesperson for Hyundai said: “The onus of the mishap cannot be put on us only because we own the premises. The job was outsourced to Thermax.”

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