Passenger gets sucked out of plane as explosion blows hole in jet's side
The pilot of a passenger plane that was damaged in an explosion and fire over Somalia described how the crew jumped into action to fly the plane back to Mogadishu airport.
They battled to keep the passengers calm even as smoke enveloped the cabin and wind rushed through a hole blown through the fuselage.
Serbian captain Vlatko Vodopivec said he and others were told the explosion aboard the Airbus 321 jetliner was caused by a bomb, a suspicion endorsed by Somali government officials yesterday.
"It happened at about 11,000 feet," Vodopivec said. "It was my first bomb; I hope it will be the last."
One person died as the blast tore a hole in the fuselage. It is understood he was sucked through the hole in the plane.
Captain Vodopivec (64) has flown for several European and African companies in a long piloting career.
"When we heard a loud bang, the co-pilot went back to the cabin to inspect the damage and I took over the commands as the procedure demands," he said, adding that the engines and hydraulics functioned normally so he had no problem flying the aircraft back to Mogadishu.
"Smoke came into the cockpit, but it was mostly concentrated in the back of the aircraft," he said in a telephone interview from a UN military base in Mogadishu before he was to fly to Athens, Greece.
"The stewardesses did a great job calming down the passengers and following the emergency procedure.
"We were told a person was sucked out of the plane, but that is still not confirmed," he added.
Cellphone video taken aboard the plane pans from 73 passengers, some wearing oxygen masks, in seats toward the back of the airliner in flight, and then swivels to the empty front area with a hole in the side of the cabin.
The video was taken by Awale Kullane, Somalia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, who later said on Facebook that he "heard a loud noise and couldn't see anything but smoke for a few seconds."
When visibility returned they realised "quite a chunk" of the plane was missing.
Daallo Airlines said in a brief statement that the Airbus A321 plane was operated by Hermes Airlines. It said the plane "experienced an incident shortly after take-off".
"The Aircraft landed safely and all of our passengers were evacuated safely. A thorough investigation is being conducted by Somalia Civil Aviation Authority," the Daallo statement said.
Mohamed Hassan, a police officer in Balad, an agricultural town 30km north of Mogadishu, said residents had found the dead body of a man who might have fallen from the plane.