Plane crash kills 5

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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