Plane crash kills 5
Fairchild Metroliner Mirk III aircraft crashes near Safi Barracks leaving five Frenchmen dead. Photos (above) by Laurent Azzopardi, photo below: Omar Camilleri (DOI)
Five people died yesterday morning when a light aircraft crashed soon after take-off at Malta International Airport. MIA confirmed that five people died in the accident which took place at 7.20am. All five have been confirmed as being French nationals by the Department of Information. The remains of all five men have been found, the government said. The plane crashed near the runway soon after take-off and burst into flames. The Rescue and Fire Services team together with members from the Civil Protection Department and Mater Dei were dispatched to the scene immediately.
Official information, footage and eyewitnesses, including three members of the Armed Forces of Malta at the nearby Safi Barracks, and two commercial airline pilots, clearly indicate that there was no explosion prior to impact, the government said.
The plane had taken off before it suddenly tipped onto its right side and crashed into the ground, eyewitnesses said. Some of the debris ended up on the runway, while parts of the plane finished on the road outside the perimeter of the airport. This led to the airport to be closed to both incoming and outgoing flights for more than four hours, with operations resuming at 11.30am.
A government statement issued yesterday at noon said that a Fairchild Metroliner Mark III aircraft is registered in the United States and leased to a Luxembourg company. Several inquiries, as established by international rules and the Laws of Malta, are currently underway to establish all facts. This Fairchild Metroliner N577MX, which belongs to CAE Aviation, is equipped for ground and maritime surveillance. N577MX was used by the Armée
de l’Air Francaise to patrol the Libyan coast from MIA.
The flight was part of a French Customs surveillance operation which has been taking place for the past five months, with the aim of tracing routes of illicit trafficking of all sorts, including human and drug trafficking amongst others. The said flight was registered with the Malta Air Traffic Services as a local flight and was to return to Malta within hours without landing in third countries.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the five on board were three French Defence Ministry officials and two private contractors. The French ministry said it will conduct an investigation on what caused the crash, Le Drian said in a statement.
The aircraft was initially believed to have been leased from Luxembourg for use by officials of Frontex, an agency that deals with migration issues. But Frontex said in a tweet that this was not the case. In an official statement, Frontex later confirmed “that the plane that crashed this morning in Malta was not deployed in operational activities coordinated by Frontex. No Frontex staff was on board.”
As the identity of the people on board was being established, the European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Frederica Mogerini said that there were no EU officials on board and that the flight was not related to any EU activity.
An Air Malta flight to Heathrow, which was the next flight scheduled to leave, did not depart. Eyewitnesses said that had the small plane crashed on the other side of the runway the tragedy could have been bigger.
Victims were members of French ‘spy’ agency
The three ‘defence officials’ who perished in yesterday’s plane crash along with two civilian contractors were members of the DGSE – France’s equivalent of the CIA and MI5.
The DGSE, which stands for General Directorate for External Security, is France’s external intelligence agency and falls under the French Ministry of Defence.
The Maltese government yesterday afternoon said in a statement that the five Frenchmen who died in the fiery crash were “customs officials.” But the French government later gave a conflicting report and said three were “defence officials” and the other two were civilian contractors, which means paramilitary personnel employed by a private security company.
The French customs agency later denied that any of its officials were involved in the crash.
In the meantime several major French news establishments are reporting that the men belonged to the DGSE. These include Le
Monde, Le Parisien and Le Figaro. Western special forces and intelligence agencies have been working against ISIS in Libya for several months. Such operations usually come with a high level of deniability and are rarely officially acknowledged. Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela this afternoon denied that foreign military personnel were based out of Malta.
The Malta Independent expresses its deepest sympathy for the victims and their relatives.
Photo: Jonathan Borg