Men in plane crash were on French Customs Department operation; crash likely due to technical fault
The Prime Minister confirmed last night that the men who died in the plane crash yesterday morning were part of a French Customs Department operation, tracking human and drug trafficking routes in the region.
He was responding to questions posed by MPs in Parliament after a ministerial statement on the crash was delivered by Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela.
Five people died yesterday when a light aircraft crashed soon after take-off at Malta International Airport.
Delivering his statement, the Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela expressed his condolences to the families of those who passed away.
He stressed that a number of inquiries are currently underway, including a magisterial inquiry as well as one by the Air Accident Inquiry Bureau in order to find out exactly what happened.
The plane was a Fairchild Metroliner Mark 3, he said.
“From initial information available, including from videos and eye witness testimony, there was no explosion before impact.”
He said that experts believe that it is more than likely that the accident was caused by a technical fault or human error.
“So far there is no indication that this occurred for any other reason, but this still needs to be confirmed through the investigations.”
He said that Malta was asked to help in the operation logistically.
Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil who is wearing a black tie as a sign of respect for those who passed away, called for a minute of silence. He said “I am not in a position to doubt what the minister has said, but there are already situations where the people are not believing this information. “The French Finance Minister has denied that they were customs officials, but it instead results that the people who died, or some of them, were from departments under the defence ministry.”
“Thus this was not a customs operations, but manifestly was a military one.”
Dr Busuttil asked whether the operation had Maltese government permission to occur. “What interest did Malta have in this operation? Why was it going to leave Malta? Due to what happened yesterday, is the Maltese government considering revising what it is doing regarding these operations that the Maltese public did not know about? Is any other theory that what happened could have been some form of target been disregarded, or is it too early to tell? Will government conduct an investigation with French authorities to arrive at a clear conclusion as to what happened?”
The Opposition Leader also said the Prime Minister did not call him to inform him about what happened throughout the day.
A number of MPs then posed questions to the Minister, including in relation to earlier reports suggesting that the plane was being used as part of a Frontex operation.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat then spoke.
“There were a number of questions regarding speculation that Frontex officials were on the plane, which was not mentioned in the government statement, but rather through certain media. We told the media house in question that they were wrong but kept on with the story anyway. The EU Commission contacted us and we told them there were no Frontex officials in the crash.”
“The Plane was also not heading to Misurata, Libya. From the manifests it was classified as a local flight, thus not landing in any other country but coming back to Malta. This speculation could have occurred as there was a Medavia flight that was to head to Misurata just a few minutes after this one left.”
“The government in no part of its statement said the persons on board were employed by the French Customs Department,” he said referring to the denial of this by the French Finance Minister. “The operation was occurring under the French Customs Department. Now if there were employees of the French Defence Ministry, I don’t think it is up to us to go into. We have certified documents that we gave permission to on an operation by the French Customs Department.
“Two days ago, 3,000 people passed the Mediterranean through Libya. We are in a dangerous zone, where we need to be collaborating with all those who believe they can help us stop human and drug trafficking. The Maltese government, as it has always done, takes the needed decisions, and collaborates with entities to ensure we protect the best interests of Maltese and government citizens. This operation has been ongoing for five months, and the aim is to gather information on trafficking routes.”
He said no French government statement has contrasted those by the Maltese government, adding that the two are in contact. He did not exclude a joint investigation into the crash.
Turning to the peril from flights, he said “we are not aware of any danger from these kind of flights. Accidents can happen.”
“I am not informed that there were any failures when it comes to maintenance. Obviously, it will be within the competence of the inquiry to establish this.”
Turning to speculation, he said that through video footage, it is obvious there was no bomb onbard as it exploded on impact.
Turning to communication with the Opposition, he said that “the Home Affairs Ministry communicated with Dr Beppe Fenech Adami throughout the day. We need to determine the other points that there could be. Our experts so far don’t believe there is any form of foul play, but we are not excluding it.”
The Plane was not heading to Misurata, Libya. From the manifests it was classified as a local flight, thus not landing in any other country but coming back to Malta. This speculation could have occurred as there was a Medavia flight that was to head to Misurata
Photo: Jonathan Borg