UPDATED: Four sent to hospital after explosion rocks aerospace plant in Vergennes on Friday
VERGENNES — A handful of people were taken to hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries sustained in an explosion at the United Technology Corp. Aerospace plant in Vergennes just before noon on Friday.
An explosion rocked the Panton Road plant that employs 775 people who make equipment for the aerospace and defense industry.
News reports and observers said the blast was caused after dust accumulated in the ventilation filter system and it was ignited by an unknown source. Officials from the company and Vermont State Police on Friday said they were still investigating the explosion and did not wish to speculate on the cause.
“We’re working with emergency responders to continue to assess the situation at our Vergennes facility,” a UTC Aerospace spokesperson said early Friday afternoon. “At this time we can confirm there was an explosion. All employees were evacuated.”
A witness reported that a portion of the roof of the Panton Road plant was damaged, and there was a fire.
According to a UTC employee who heard but did not see the explosion, employees were let into their workspaces to gather their things and then sent home for the rest of the day.
Fire trucks, ambulances and state and local police were dispatched to the plant, which includes both engineering and manufacturing facilities.
Some employees were taken to UVM Medical Center in Burlington for treatment of more serious injuries, which reportedly included severe burns and a spleen injury. Other employees were taken to Porter Hospital in Middlebury for treatment of more minor injuries, one source said.
The company late Friday confirmed that four UTC employees were taken to the hospital and by 10 p.m. three were released; one was still being treated.
“Our thoughts are with those affected and we are working with emergency responders to ensure that they receive the appropriate care and relief,” the company spokesperson said on Friday afternoon.
The plant was due to resume regular operations on Saturday except in the areas directly affected by the blast.
The Vergennes Sensors and Integrated Systems plant was formerly part of Goodrich Corp. UTC bought Goodrich in 2011. In the past, a number of key products made in Vergennes included Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) for military helicopters. HUMS are designed to measure wear and tear on helicopters’ operating systems to predict accurately when maintenance should be performed, thus enhancing passenger safety and preventing unnecessary expenses.
In 2014, UTC won a $6.7 million Department of Defense contract to develop and test improved guidance systems for U.S. munitions, which would allow greater precision and avoid damage to innocent bystanders and property.
The contract with the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium was for developing and testing of low-cost Guidance, Navigation, Control and Targeting (GNC&T) systems for precision munitions, which was developed at the Vergennes facility.