, MOGADISHU, Feb 4 – A blast that ripped a hole in a commercial airliner shortly after take-off from Somalia’s capital was probably caused by a bomb, aviation experts and the pilot who landed it safely said Wednesday.
The plane, operated by Daallo Airlines and flying from Mogadishu to Djibouti with 74 passengers, safely made an emergency landing on Tuesday.
Police said two people onboard were injured, while the government has said the blast was believed to be caused by an issue of air pressure.
The Serbian pilot has said he thought the blast, which ripped the fuselage from inside to out, had been an explosive device, according to reports in the Serbian newspaper Blic.
Pilot Vladimir Vodopivec, 64, told a friend he thought it was “a bomb”, without giving more details.
Photographs show a large hole — about a metre in diameter — just above the engines on the right wing, with streaks of soot on the plane.
– ‘Fire erupted’ –
Vodopivec added that the blast did not damage the navigation systems, and while cabin pressure was lost, he was able to guide the plane back safely to land at Mogadishu airport.
“Passengers were terrified,” said Abdiwahab Hassan, an airport official.
Aviation safety expert Xavier Tytelman said he compared images of the blast with photographs of previous explosions, and it had all the appearances of a bomb blast.
It was not caused by any issue of pressurisation, he said, for the blast ripped the metal outwards.
“The explosion occurred at the passenger level…it clearly comes from inside,” he told AFP, adding that at that part of the plane, there was no major engine or electrical device to spark such a blast.
“In addition, the metal is bent forward against the flow of air – it is not an issue of depressurisation,” he said.
Video footage taken after the blast showed people having moved to the back of the plane with emergency oxygen masks dangling down as wind rushed around the main cabin, although most people appeared fairly calm.
– Islamist Shebab fighting government –
However, Somalia’s deputy information minister Abdullahi Olad Roble, said it was not believed to be a bomb.
“Initial investigation results suggest that there was a lot of air inside the airplane after take off, and that air may have caused the explosion, fire erupted and several people were slightly injured,” he said.
“We have seen the plane… the aircraft doesn’t have any big problem.”
The plane “experienced an incident shortly after take-off,” operator Daallo Airlines said in a statement.
“The aircraft landed safely and all of our passengers were evacuated safely,” it added. “A thorough investigation is being conducted by Somalia Civil Aviation Authority.”
Mogadishu airport is heavily fortified and adjoins the capital’s main base of the African Union mission to Somalia, the 22,000-strong force backing the government in the battle against Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab insurgents.
The insurgents have lost ground since being routed from Mogadishu in 2011 but continue to stage regular shooting and suicide attacks. They have launched mortar attacks on the airport compound in the past.
Last month they stormed a Kenyan army base at El-Adde in southwest Somalia, in the latest incident of an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base being overrun.
The Shebab have also staged attacks in Kenya, killing at least 67 people at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in 2013 and massacring 148 people at a university in Garissa in April 2015.
They have made no claim of carrying out a bomb attack on the plane.