Mogadishu: A blast that ripped a hole in a commercial airliner shortly after take-off from Somalia's capital was probably caused by a bomb, the pilot who landed it safely claimed today.
The plane, operated by Daallo Airlines and flying from Mogadishu to Djibouti with 74 passengers, safely made an emergency landing yesterday.
Police said two people onboard were injured. 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.
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.
"The passenger plane made an emergency landing soon after it took off yesterday, and there was a damage on one side of the aircraft over the right wing," Somali police officer Mohamed Ise said. He added it was not clear what had caused the explosion and fire and that investigations were being carried out.
"Passengers were terrified," said Abdiwahab Hassan, an airport official. 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.