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Investigators Say Faulty Propane Hose Cause Of Foundry Explosions

TACOMA, Wash. -- A mechanical failure in a propane supply hose apparently led to the massive explosions that rocked the Atlas Castings and Technology foundry earlier this month and caused the severe burns that killed a propane truck driver, Tacoma Fire Department investigators said.

The investigative report released Wednesday by Deputy Fire Marshal Lee Britt also said two Atlas employees had worked on the propane hose, which is owned by Atlas, before the blast.

"The statements that the Atlas employees worked on the hose are accurate," said Duane Britschgi, Atlas chief executive and president. "What is missing is that they did that at the request of the driver."

Britschgi said that when IXL Transportation Services driver Charles "Chuck" McDonald arrived on the site on Oct. 6, he needed a gate unlocked.

"As he walked through the gate to get the hose, he noticed the fitting that makes the coupling to the truck was disengaged from the hose," Britschgi told The News Tribune newspaper. McDonald asked for help with the heavy fitting.

He said the driver is responsible for making the connection to the truck and checking the hose for safety.

"He's trained if there are any issues with the hose or the connections, to red-tag it and not make a delivery," Britschgi said.

A cloud of propane gas was released during the delivery and was ignited by a furnace inside a building about 75 feet away.

Before he was burned, McDonald, 64, waded through the billowing gas to the cab of his truck, where investigators believe he might have been trying to turn off a pump expelling the propane from his 8,000-gallon tanker. He might also have been trying to turn off the truck's engine.

McDonald was burned over 75 percent of his body and died from medical complications Oct. 14.

The fire department's report stops short of determining who was at fault for the explosions. A state Department of Labor and Industries investigation into the accident is ongoing.

Bob Cox, president and CEO of IXL, did not immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

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