More than a dozen people hurt in explosion at Beechcraft plant in Wichita

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UPDATE: Plant three will remain closed until further notice. Operations at the remaining facilities on the East campus will resume on December 28th.

Authorities say more than a dozen people were hurt when a nitrogen line ruptured at the Beechcraft aircraft manufacturing facility in east Wichita.

The explosion happened around 8 a.m. Friday when a 3-inch nitrogen gas line ruptured at the facility located in the 300 block of North Webb Road. Part of Plant 3 collapsed.

Sedgwick County EMS Director John Gallagher initially said 11 people were taken to hospitals and four were treated at the scene. 

A spokesperson for Ascension Via Christi says St. Francis received nine patients. By late Friday afternoon, four had been treated and released and a fifth was expected to be released. Two people admitted in serious condition were listed in fair condition and a third listed as serious was been upgraded to good. The person who suffered critical injuries has been upgraded to serious condition.

Wesley Medical Center had three patients in stable condition and two others who were treated and released, according to a hospital spokesperson.

The rupture was contained, but gas continued to vent, although it posed no risk to nearby residents, officials said.

“The plant closed or shut down for the holiday season so the numbers that would have been here, were not, so it was a skeleton crew,” Deputy Fire Chief Daniel Wegner said.

The cause of the blast is under investigation.

James Fromme, a chief for the Wichita Fire Department, said there were no reports that anyone was still trapped in the building.

Stephanie Harder, a spokeswoman for Beechcraft’s parent company, Textron Aviation, said the structure where the explosion happened is part of a complex of buildings and houses the business’ composite manufacturing and experimental aircraft.

“Difficult day. Difficult news,” she said.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office, OSHA and the local lodge of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers didn’t immediately respond to phone messages.

The explosion comes at a difficult time for the aircraft industry in Wichita, which is a major sector of the Kansas economy.

Boeing announced that it would suspend production of its troubled 737 Max jetliner in January, forcing the state to consider helping to pay workers at Spirit AeroSystems, which produces the jet’s fuselages. And earlier this month, Textron Aviation announced that it would lay off an unspecified number of workers, most of them in Wichita.

The plant is in the legislative district of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

“I am praying for those who are injured and my staff and I will be in close contact with community and state leaders as investigators work to learn more,” Wagle said in an emailed statement.

An emergency help line has been established for employees impacted by the explosion. Those who need assistance can call (316) 517-5252.

The Associated Press contributed to this update.

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Emergency crews are responding to reports of multiple explosions at the Beechcraft facility in east Wichita.

Officials were called just after 8 a.m. Friday to a possible nitrogen tank explosion at 370 North Webb Road. At least one person suffered serious injuries, according to a Sedgwick County dispatch supervisor.

Webb Road was closed from Central to Kellogg. 

Cessna sent an alert to employees that plants 3 and B15 were being evacuated. The facility is owned by Textron.

Experts say what the company can expect in the future is all speculation right now until they assess all of the damage. Although plant 3 is not a primary manufacturing building, experts say it will be a huge loss.

"That building has played an important role in a lot of the development work they've done over the last five or six years," said Daniel McCoy, an aerospace reporter for the Wichita Business Journal. "Plant three has kind of been an important part of the resurgence of the east side campus for Textron Aviation."

McCoy said it is used for composite manufacturing, which could come to a halt if enough composites are damaged. This would force them to outsource the work or get it from elsewhere in the company.

Employees say that over the last four years, they've spent a lot of money fixing up plant 3. It's also where Textron builds its prototypes.

"It was the sight of development for their Cessna Citation Longitude," McCoy said. "Which is their new, kind of flagship business jet. and it really helped, kind of bring business jet production back to the east side of town."

They say there is lots of composite work done at that plant and some items can be highly explosive.

Depending on what exactly happened at the plant, Cessna's work on the 408 SkyCourier could be delayed, according to employees, but McCoy said from the looks of the aftermath, it could have been much worse for them as a business.

"That would have been more problematic from a business standpoint if it had happened on a primary production line," McCoy said.

Additional information was not immediately available. 

KAKE News has crews at Beechcraft gathering details. Watch for updates on KAKE News, and the KAKE News app.