Turkey & The Sinister Somalian Flight A321

Fortunate Placement.
Fortunate Placement.

A 55 year-old man has been sucked out of a Daallo Airlines Flight A321 to Djibouti which took off from Mogadishu airport in Somalia.  That’s not an opening paragraph you read every day.  Passengers reported hearing a loud explosion moments before the 55 year-old man identified as Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle was dragged out by the pressure differential.  He had been brought aboard in a wheel chair and was seated over the right wing. Which is fortunate.  Any further forward the debris could have damaged the engine.  Further back and the explosion may have affected the horizontal stabiliser.

While two passengers were slightly hurt,  there were no other casualties.  Which is a miracle, really.  It’s now reported that the most likely cause of the decompression was a small explosive device.  And the finger is being pointed at Borle.  He may have been the victim of the wrong time wrong place syndrome.

Authorities in Mogadishu announced formally on Saturday 6th February that the blast was caused by  a bomb which they say Borle was carrying hidden inside a laptop.    The force punched a one-metre-sized hole in the side of the aircraft.   What we know for sure is that a one-metre wide hole is all you need to suck a man out of a plane.

Courtesy of PPRUNE.ORG
Courtesy of PPRUNE.ORG

While Al Shabaab has said nothing, the signs are there that this flight was targeted.   Is it a co-incidence that Somalia’s UN ambassador, Awale Kullane, was on board the plane?

The license for the route is held by Turkish Airlines.  But citing “a technical problem” TA suddenly pulled its planes from Somalia the day before the blast and Daallo Airlines was duly installed.  Passengers were told they’d meet up with Turkish Airlines in Djibouti.  This is no co-incidence.  Turkish Airlines has been flying to Somalia daily for years.

So how much did authorities in Turkey know?  Was Daallo Airlines aware of said threat?  And the flight crew aboard.  What an interesting lot.  The pilot – a 64 year-old Serbian Pilot Vladimir Vodopivec.   He performed his role perfectly and must be lauded for bringing everyone but Borle back alive.    

With Moscow now firmly one of Ankara’s sworn enemies, and a Russian plane bombed out of the sky over Egypt, there are some who think think there’s more to this story than meets the eye.  Al Shabaab’s silence can either be explained by being embarrassed by failure,  or because someone else planted the bomb.

Where was Borle going?  Why was he in a wheel chair?  What device was he carrying?  Did he know that the laptop contained a bomb?  If he was a bomber why did he make the mistake of pulling the pin at 14000 feet instead of 33000 feet where the pressure differential would have probably torn the plane apart.  Or not?

What we can say with certainty too is that the Airbus airframe held together in a remarkable way despite the explosion and a hole torn in the fuselage.  There is also something really sinister about the count-down form in the name of the flight:




Incipient Spin, SAA & The Piss Cat

While training for my PPL in 2009 my instructors were a tough bunch demanding that I learn all about how to recover an aircraft from an unusual attitude.  That usually entailed two options 3000 feet above the ground.  Spinning and the horror show called an incipient spin.  Because I began the training during the period in what’s known as pre-JAR, this was normal.  But modern FAA and JAR training has eschewed this delicate procedure. I began doing these sort-of radical aviation thingymajobs on board something called a Rapid Sabre light sport aircraft and the well-known Cessna 172.   By far the most fun was in the Rapid Sabre which is basically a converted glider with a Rotax (small petrol) engine.  The incipient spin was known to cause even experienced pilots a few seconds of shock.   The technique to get in trouble is also fairly simple.   Stall the plane,  then hit the left or right rudder.  Because of three brilliant things called Newton’s laws,  the aircraft actually spins in the opposite direction.  And the Rapid Sabre spins rapidly.  The speed at which the plane would flip a wing then point straight down at the ground whizzing like a top really has to be experienced to be appreciated.

ZU EUT – the Rapid Sabre with the inimitable Russell Donaldson hanging onto the canopy (during summer this plane is like a greenhouse!)

But all of this madness was for a reason.  Recovering the plane if you ever got yourself into a bad situation.   This is where we chat a bit about the JAR versus the American training methodology. The JAR or European training is heavy on theory and lighter on practical.  I know instructors will argue about this,  but it blatantly true.  And the Europeans, for whatever reason,  presumed that the recovery from an incipient spin was deemed an unnecessary skill.  I must say at the time I found this completely incomprehensible.  Imagine flying for thousands of hours and never having the exercise included in your training?  It’s just asking for trouble and finally folks have woken up to this reality.

The good news is that certain airlines including SAA are re-introducing the need for pilots of these behemoths to strap on a small light plane again,  and do some spinning.  Delta Airlines and a host of others have come to the conclusion that their pilots need to be proper pilots, not just bus drivers.  And not only spin and incipient spin,  but recovering during night or instrument flight.   What’s really interesting is that the pilots are not doing this in a simulator,  they’re actually being made to clamber aboard what are called “piss cats”  or little prop driven planes.  Yes, piss cats is an insult used to denote four seater light planes and you’ll hear some of the older Boeing and Airbus pilots disparagingly refer to these little planes in that way.

The spin.  Not for a doctor..
The spin. Not for a doctor..

Well swallow your pride, old men and women.  Tough if one of these former smirkers are now having to don a light plane and flip around the airways learning how to correct a plane that’s going out of control.  And not in the happy soft comfy chair of a simulator,  but up there where the air is thinner and there’s always something new – and if you get it wrong the granite cloud awaits.

An SAA Airbus in the Lanseria circuit

Its not often that you get to see an Airbus doing circuits at a local airport.  The pilots aboard were really being put through their paces.  The Airbus did mostly visual landings in a tight circuit which is challenging considering the speeds.  At one point the crosswind ticked up to around 15 knots and I watched the training from my vantage point just off alpha taxiway.

A youtube video of the circuits.

That was just before a flight to Brits and Pilansberg.  I was forced to turn back as the clouds descended and visibility dropped to a thousand feet.   At one point turbulence below the ceiling was increasing and was an ideal moment to get everything set up for a rate one turn and trying to stay  on the numbers.   Cleared inbound and landed smoothly, ZS-BOR featuring audio terrain warning systems always fun!Image