MOGADISHU: In this photo taken Tuesday, a hole is seen in a plane operated by Daallo Airlines as it sits on the runway of the airport. – AP

MOGADISHU: In this photo taken Tuesday, a hole is seen in a plane operated by Daallo Airlines as it sits on the runway of the airport. – AP

MOGADISHU: A blast that ripped a hole in a commercial airliner shortly after takeoff from Somalia’s capital was probably caused by a bomb, aviation experts and the pilot who landed it safely said yesterday. The plane, operated by Daallo Airlines and flying from Mogadishu to Djibouti with 74 passengers, safely made an emergency landing on Tuesday. One man was killed by the blast, officials said. Local authorities north of Mogadishu said the body of a man, believed to have been sucked out through the hole in the fuselage made by the blast, was found in their area.

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.

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 pressurization, 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 depressurization,” 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.

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 takeoff, 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.”

Local authorities said the body of a passenger was found in the Balcad area, about 30 km north of Mogadishu. A police officer at Mogadishu airport said the body of the 55-year-old man was being brought to the capital. “He dropped when the explosion occurred in the plane,” the officer said. But Abdiwahid Omar, the director of Somalia’s civil aviation authority, told state-run Radio Mogadishu that authorities were not sure if the body found in Balcad was the missing passenger.

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 Shabab 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. – Agencies