In 2016, the Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab set off a bomb on a passenger plane. As with most terrorist attacks, the perpetrators had a reason but not a good one. They said they were retaliating against Western attacks on Somalia, but exactly what these passengers traveling from Mogadishu to Djibouti City did to deserve death, the terrorists could not say. 

Their goal was to bring down the plane, killing all 81 people aboard. This did not happen. 

They did manage to smuggle the bomb aboard the flight. Proper security, authorities later said, should have been able to detect that the laptop contained explosive TNT, but the device went through. It’s possible airport security were in on the operation. Investigators suspected someone on the security team, who later soon died in a separate car bombing.

Al-Shabaab also managed to set the explosive off. The bomber, Abdullahi Abdisalam Borleh, sat in a part of the plane that should have led to maximum damage. The explosion should have set fire to the fuel tank, which would have led to an even bigger explosion and ripped the plane apart. 

But the plane took off later than expected. When Borleh set off the bomb, planning to die and take everyone else with him, the plane was not yet at cruising altitude. As a result—we admit that we don’t totally understand the physics here, but we’re putting our trust in the investigators’ conclusion—the fuel tank did not ignite. The explosion just ripped a hole in the side of the plane. 

Borleh himself then immediately flew out of the hole. But that second or so was enough to equalize pressure between the inside and outside of the plane, and so no one else on the plane felt any force sucking them outward. The flight crew simply moved passengers away from the new exit (standing and moving around was perfectly safe, so long as no one leapt out the hole), radio’d in the incident, and staged an emergency landing. 

Authorities later convicted ten people, including airport employees, for assisting in the attack. As for Borleh himself, they found his remains on the ground near Mogadishu, smashed but still recognizable. 

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Top image: Laurent Errera 

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