Men in plane crash were on French Cus­toms De­part­ment op­er­a­tion; crash likely due to tech­ni­cal fault

Malta Independent - - PLANE TRAGEDY - Kevin Schem­bri Or­land

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

Photo:DOI

Pho­to­graph: Jonathan Borg

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