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Dusseldorf disaster: 16 are killed as fire sweeps through crowded airpo rt

Passengers and airport staff caught in the Dusseldorf airport fire told of the scenes of panic in the terminal as toxic smoke spread through the building.

Gunther Marocke, 71, of Kleve, said he spotted a burst of flames through the ceiling and pointed it out to workers. "All of a sudden people started calling, `Fire. Everybody out.' Then a dark cloud shot along the ceiling."

A Lufthansa employee said: "The flames crept across the ceiling. Several pieces of the ceiling started falling down on to us." A passenger added: "It was a catastrophe. There was such a panic that people were falling over each other everywhere."

Within 30 seconds the hall was filled with toxic fumes, he said. He put his hands over his head and ran outside. "Luckily there were only a few people in the hall - mainly personnel - otherwise it could have been much worse."

Katrin Kramer, of British Airways, said: "I saw thick clouds of smoke and thought it was a fire and started to tremble inside." She then told about 100 passengers over the loudspeaker to leave the lounge.

Hans-Jurgen Leineweber, a spokesman for Dusseldorf fire brigade, said one possible reason for the many casualties was that people panicked and ignored instructions to use fire exits when the blaze broke out.