MOGADISHU – An explosion and fire blew a gaping hole in a commercial airliner, forcing it to make an emergency landing at Mogadishu’s international airport late Tuesday, officials and witnesses said.
Two people were slightly injured as 74 passengers and crew of the plane were evacuated after the plane made a safe landing, Somali aviation official Ali Mohamoud said.
The plane, operated by Daallo Airlines and headed to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, was forced to land minutes after taking off from the Mogadishu airport, said Mohamoud.
The Serbian pilot, Vladimir Vodopivec, was quoted by Belgrade daily Blic as saying he believed the explosion was caused by a bomb.
“I think it was a bomb,” he said. “Luckily, the flight controls were not damaged so I could return and land at the airport. Something like this has never happened in my flight career. We lost pressure in the cabin. Thank god it ended well,” the 64-year-old pilot said.
Awale Kullane, Somalia’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. who was on board the flight, said on Facebook that he “heard a loud noise and couldn’t see anything but smoke for a few seconds.” When visibility returned they realized “quite a chunk” of the plane was missing, he wrote.
Kullane, who was going to Djibouti to attend a conference for diplomats, also posted video showing some passengers putting on oxygen masks inside the plane. The post was later removed from his Facebook page.
There are only two things that could have caused a hole in the plane that looks like the one in photos circulated online — a bomb or a pressurization blowout caused by a flaw or fatigue in the plane’s skin, said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety and aviation safety expert.
The photos appear to show black soot around the aircraft skin that is peeled back, said Goglia. A pressurization blowout wouldn’t create soot, but a bomb would, he said.
Also, information about the event posted online indicate it took place during the takeoff phase of flight before the plane reached 30,000 feet, where there is maximum pressurization, Goglia said. That makes the case for a pressurization blowout even less likely, he said.
“We don’t know a lot, but certainly it looks like a device,” Goglia said.
Another passenger, Mohamed Ali, told The Associated Press that he and others heard a bang before flames opened a gaping hole in the plane’s side.
“I don’t know if it was a bomb or an electric shock, but we heard a bang inside the plane,” he said, adding he could not confirm reports that passengers had fallen from the plane.
Mohamed Hassan, a police officer in nearby Balad town, said residents had found the dead body of an old man who might have fallen from a plane. Balad is an agricultural town 30 km (about 18 miles) north of Mogadishu.
Somalia faces an insurgency perpetrated by the Somali Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which is responsible for many deadly attacks across the nation.
Earlier reports said two passengers were injured in an explosion that blew a hole in the fuselage of the plane taking off from Mogadishu on Tuesday, an airline representative said.
There was no immediate explanation for the explosion from the airline or Somali government officials.
“Daallo airline was enroute to Djibouti but it landed shortly after it took off. A fire exploded and two passengers were slightly wounded,” Mohamed Hussein, an agent for Daallo Airlines, the operator of the flight, told Reuters.
Aviation website www.airlive.net said the explosion occurred on flight D3159, an Airbus A321, adding witnesses heard a loud bang.
Daallo flies to several destinations in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, its website showed.