Yesterday, Thursday, November 10th, 2022, a Middle East Airlines (MEA) passenger plane was hit by a stray bullet while landing at Beirut’s airport. The aircraft, an Airbus A320-200 with registration OD-MRM, was operating flight ME311 from Amman, Jordan to Beirut, Lebanon when a stray bullet struck the fuselage shortly after landing.
MEA Chairman Mohamad El-Hout told Reuters that seven to eight stationary planes are hit by stray bullets shot from areas neighboring the airport each year, but this is the first time it has happened while a plane was in motion.
Lebanese lawmaker Paula Yacoubian was on the flight and shared images on Twitter that appear to show a hole in the fuselage of the plane. She said that she was sitting in seat 2F when the incident occurred “right above my head.”
Celebratory gunfire is a common occurrence in Lebanon. Gun ownership is widespread and weapons are often fired to mark special occasions, such as speeches by politicians and the release of official exam results. MEA Chair El-Hout is calling for it to end, saying “these practices of shooting in the air in Lebanon must be stopped…it is a source of danger to air traffic and the airport.”
The incident serves as a reminder of the dangers of celebratory gunfire and the importance of taking safety precautions to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. It also highlights the ongoing political and economic disfunction facing Lebanon. Lebanon has been grappling with an economic crisis that has left over 80% of the population living in poverty due to endemic corruption and a sectarian political system that have hindered efforts for change and accountability.
In the two years since a massive explosion devastated the capital city of Beirut and killed 218 people, no one has been held responsible and the investigation into the causes of the disaster has stalled. The collapse of two grain silos on the port of Beirut, already heavily damaged from the explosion, just two years later serves as a symbol of the country’s ongoing dysfunction and lack of accountability.
Despite these challenges, Middle East Airlines has a generally good safety record. The airline which was founded in 1945 and has been in operation for over 75 years has seen no fatalities since a terrorist attack in 1976. In recent years, the airline has modernized its fleet with the addition of Airbus A310-300s and A321-200s and becoming a member of the SkyTeam alliance.
Unfortunately, given the turmoil in the country and region, incidents like this are not surprising despite the airline’s best efforts. Luckily, no injuries were reported in this incident. While the bullet hole in the fuselage reasonably caused concern for the passengers and crew on board, the plane was able to land safely with no injuries.