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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Welders Suspected in Airport Fire

D†SSELDORF, Germany -- German prosecutors said Friday they were considering pressing criminal charges against maintenance workers after 16 people were killed at D--sseldorf airport in Germany's worst airport fire.

A fateful half-hour delay in alerting city firefighters was also under scrutiny, as investigators searched the gutted terminal for clues to Thursday's fire and doctors fought to save two victims still in critical condition.

"We have opened an investigation for negligent arson and negligent killing," a prosecutor's office spokesman told a news conference.

Prosecutors said they believed welders in Terminal A caused sparks that traveled through shafts into a lower story and set fire to electrical cables. The blaze released toxic chloride, cyanide and carbon monoxide fumes.

All the 16 dead suffocated in the smoke. Some were trapped in a lift which jammed. The youngest victim was a boy of seven.

Two people were still in critical condition of the 62 seriously injured and taken to hospital after inhaling fumes. Gases spread through the ventilation system within seconds of the fire breaking out in the arrivals hall.

Authorities said D--sseldorf airport, Germany's largest after Frankfurt, would remain closed for at least the next three days.

Fire brigade spokesman Wolfgang Roehr said city firefighters were not alerted by the airport until almost 30 minutes after the blaze was reported.

The team with a single fire engine, which arrived on the scene to help the airport's own firefighters, then put out an alert bringing in teams from all over the city and surrounding areas.

Police said the dead comprised seven Germans, six French, two Italians and a British soldier serving in the north German town of Muenster. No names were released.

More than 40 police and firefighters trawled through the wreckage of the arrivals hall, still filled with an acrid stench, in the search for further clues to the cause of the fire.

Firefighters battled for over five hours to tame the blaze as it swept through the terminal, which primarily serves the German airline Lufthansa's domestic and international flights.

They said many of the travelers in the airport panicked as they saw the rapidly spreading fumes and ignored instructions to use the fire exits.

An airport spokesman said more than 130 incoming flights would be redirected Friday alone, mostly to nearby Cologne/Bonn airport but also to Frankfurt.