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Somalia probes mysterious midair blast

Investigators are looking into the explosion that ripped a hole in a passenger plane above Mogadishu. The Serbian pilot who managed to land the airliner safely after the blast has received widespread praise at home.

The al-Shabab terror group is the prime suspect in the likely attack, US government sources told the Reuters news agency.

One man was reportedly killed in the Tuesday incident when a loud blast damaged the fuselage of a Daallo Airlines plane en route to Djibouti from Mogadishu with 74 passengers aboard.

"All passengers except one disembarked safely after aircraft landed at the airport," Daallo Airlines said in a statement Thursday. "Investigations are underway to ascertain the cause of one missing passenger."

A police officer in Mogadishu said the authorities found the body of a 55-year-old man, believed to have been sucked out through the hole in the plane.

"He dropped when the explosion occurred in the plane," a police officer at the Mogadishu airport said.

The aviation experts and the eyewitness accounts suggest that the blast was caused by a bomb.

Somali authorities, however, suggested the blast may have been caused by air pressure problems. There has been also no claim of responsibility from the

al-Shabab Islamists.
Watch video 01:17

Bomb thought to be cause of Somalia plane explosion

'Following the emergency procedure'

The blast hit some 15 minutes after takeoff from the Mogadishu airport, with the plane flying at 12,000 feet (3.7 km).

"It was my first bomb; I hope it will be the last," Captain Vladimir Vodopivac told the AP news agency. "It would have been much worse if we were higher."

A similar incident at a higher altitude could cause explosive decompression and severe structural damage while leaving the passengers with less oxygen.

"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," Vodopivac said.

"The stewardesses did a great job calming down the passengers and following the emergency procedure," he told AP.

With the hydraulics and navigation systems intact, the 64-year-old Serbian pilot steered the plane back towards Mogadishu airport and landed it safely 20 minutes after the blast.

Vodopivac, who is set to retire next year, received widespread praise for landing the plane. He comes from a well-known pilot family in his native country. His father, also named Vladimir, landed a hijacked Belgrade-bound plane while held at gunpoint in 1959.

The older Vodopivac also shot down an American C47, which breached Yugoslavian airspace in 1946, according to Serbian "Vecernje Novosti" newspaper.

dj/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, Beta)

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