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Space centre collapse kills six

A rescue worker and a sniffer dog examine the wreckage for signs of life
A rescue worker and a sniffer dog examine the wreckage for signs of life  

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Rescuers have pulled out six bodies from a mass of mangled beams after a hangar roof collapsed at Russia's main space launch site.

They were still searching on Monday for two other workers trapped in the wreckage of the 260-foot-tall hangar at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

Emergency officials held out little hope that any of an eight-man construction team working on the roof of the hangar had survived Sunday's accident.

The top panels of three of the hangar's outside walls crumbled along with the roof at the time of the accident. In footage shown on Russia's state-run RTR television, the top of the white building was a tangled pile of metal.

Russian NTV television said seven of the workers were Kazakhs and one was from Belarus.

Irina Andrianova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, told The Associated Press that a 64-member Russian rescue brigade arrived at the site overnight from Moscow and retrieved three bodies before dawn on Monday.

Russia, which rents the site from the Kazakh government, would not allow Kazakh rescuers to approach the building.

The accident revived tensions between Russia and Kazakhstan over the space centre, from where South African "space tourist" Mark Shuttleworth was blasted into orbit last month.

The cosmodrome was built in the Soviet era when both nations were part of the same country, and was a major player in the space race, launching the world's first satellite in 1957 and the first space traveller, Yuri Gagarin, four years later.

Space tourist Mark Shuttleworth is one of those to have blasted off from Baikonur  

Russia and Kazakhstan signed a 1994 agreement which recognises the Central Asian republic's territorial claim on Baikonur but leases the facility to Moscow for $115 million a year.

Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said the accident could have been prompted by something falling on a massive fuel tank kept inside the hangar, which would have produced a huge blast of air that caused the roof to swell and collapse.

Space officials ruled out terrorism or poor building maintenance as causes.

Speaking on NTV television, Gorbunov said damage was so great that the section of hangar that collapsed would probably not be repaired.

The roof collapse occurred in a building used for assembly and testing of space equipment. It was built in the late 1960s for the Soviet moon programme and was then used for construction of the Buran "snowstorm" space shuttle, abandoned in 1993 after making one successful unmanned flight in 1988.

A Buran ship was in the hangar at the time of the accident, RTR television said.

A Russian government commission led by Russian space agency chief Yuri Koptev and Science and Industry Minister Ilya Klebanov was appointed to investigate the accident, the Interfax news agency said.




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