|Was the external 'cosmetic' cladding to blame? Picture Reuters|
Julian Bray Aviation Expert writes: Having just returned from a short cruise break with Royal Caribbean, and seen throughout that trip a seemingly never ending slate of tragedy befalling London, it is beyond belief that a London tower block blaze could have ignited so quickly.
Seventeen have so far perished, and sadly the numbers are expected to rise. The pace now changes from being 'search and recovery' to that of a 'recovery' operation.
BBC World News satellite television news images show a sheet of billowing acrid smoke and sheets of flame licking up the outside of the structure. Let us all be clear, Sprinklers are good but are not the universal panacea.
They may have retarded an internally contained blaze but clearly not the cavity between the recently applied external cladding by a specialist contractor Rydon, who are remaining very tight lipped, with the exception of a somewhat terse statement.
The company and its directors, and possibly other public officials, may be facing charges under the new corporate manslaughter act, depending on the detailed evidence obtained by investigators.
The Rydon cladding system a mixture of metal plates - an undefined mineral or wadding type insulation, obviously fire retardant but is seems from the fly ash raining down on the neighbourhood, clearly not totally inflammable, the pad or 'sandwich' floated i.e. deliberately a space was left, behind the pad, so the resulting cavity allowing rainwater to pass, has possibly turned the whole lot into a massive 'flume' or 'chimney' literally 'turbocharge' fanning the flames, however any investigation may suggest most of the fatalities may be as a result of, not fire, but smoke inhalation, a silent but deadly killer.
Clearly to an investigators mind, this should be formally declared a crime scene, and the higher evidential level of criminal investigation carried out.
No internal sprinkler system however sophisticated could have halted the flames travelling upwards through the external recently applied external cladding.
To understand how this works take a look at a barbeque fire starter called a barbeque chimney, it is simply an open ended tube an external insulated handle, a holes punched in the side plus a retaining grid at the base.
Charcoal and a small igniter is place inside and within minutes, the charcoal is red hot. That in effect is what has probably happened here.
Clearly something is very wrong, and although everyone 'in authority' is saying that we should refrain speculating until the official review and a report is published. I would suggest the opposite.
People need an interim report quickly, and those who are homeless as a result rapidly and properly rehoused within days. It is well known that many absentee overseas owners buy up London property as an investment and then keep it empty.
The Mayor of London can enact emergency bylaws to requisition such property, if the Government declares a national emergency, which it clearly is as this is not the only tower block built 'and upgraded' to alike specification and with identical cladding systems.
An efficient external regulatory authority should be involved, and who better than the AAIB The Air Accident Investigation Branch? I say this as a tower block structure can be compared to that of an upended aircraft fuselage, both contain a high number of people, wrapped in metal and cladding, and fire can spread in certain circumstances, very rapidly.
Had this been a classed as an aircraft accident, there would already been an AAIB investigation team physically on site, and a formal investigation started, I repeat, there would immediately be an identifiable team of independent regulatory investigators on site, and with the regulatory power to close down or suspend ALL like structures until they could be declared safe and fit for purpose.
Evidence collected would also be legally protected, and as we learned during the shoreham accident, the evidence can be withheld from police, prior to the AAIB investigation being completed.
I am suggesting there would be no 'waiting for the council' or buying time by faceless officials. The investigation would be very publicly underway, and like an oncoming express train there would be no way to delay it or fudge the findings.
Finally our condolences to all those in anyway affected by this terrible tragedy, and to those in the emergency services who now have to make some sense of this terrible event.
JULIAN BRAY +44(0)1733 345581, Journalist & Broadcaster, Aviation Security & Airline Operations Analyst/expert, www.freelancedirectory.org?name=Julian.Bray.aviation.comment Travel / Maritime & Cruise Industry, NUJ, EQUITY, LIVE ISDN LINK, Broadcast ISDN COOBE ++44 (0)1733 345020 e&oe Old faithful NOKIA: 07944 217476 www.aviationcomment.com