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Malta plane crash latest: French customs officials killed during take-off for people smuggling mission in Libya

The plane crashed shortly after taking off for the city of Misrata in Libya

Lizzie Dearden
Monday 24 October 2016 08:10 BST
Light aircraft crashes at Malta Airport. killing at least five

A plane has crashed in Malta, killing all five people on board in the country's worst peacetime air disaster.

Maltese officials said French customs officials were among victims on the flight, which was heading for the city of Misrata in Libya.

They were tracking people smuggling across the Mediterranean, where Libya’s northern coast has become the main launching point for migrant boats.

The light aircraft went down during take-off from Malta International Airport at around 7.20am local time (6.20am BST) on Monday morning.

Rescue services at the scene of a light aircraft crash at Malta airport (Reuters)

A witness told the Times of Malta newspaper the propeller plane suddenly tipped to its right side and “went straight down to the ground”.

Footage taken from another plane on the tarmac showed the wreckage burning in a field, sending a large plume of black smoke into the air as passengers could be heard crying.

Edward Degaetano, an actor, was on a flight waiting to take off for London when he witnessed the aftermath of the crash.

“We were about to take off, moments before we did from our windows we could see a massive explosion – at first we had no idea what caused it,” he said.

“We quickly realised an aircraft had crash landed. That is when everyone got a bit anxious.”

Mr Degaetano said everything seemed “very normal” before the disaster, adding: “There was a second explosion and I thought ‘oh my god this is not just a fire’. We are all a bit stunned.”

Another video taken from a car showed the aircraft plummeting at an angle from low altitude, missing nearby houses and roads before exploding into a huge fireball on impact.

“We can confirm that the five crew on board the aircraft are deceased,” a spokesperson for Malta International Airport said. “Our thoughts are with families of people involved in this accident.

“An investigation is currently ongoing and we are working with all the authorities to provide them with any assistance necessary.”

They said the incident as an “accident upon take-off”.

Local reports initially said the twin-propeller Fairchild Metroliner was carrying officials from the EU border agency Frontex, but a spokesperson later said no staff were on board.

Federica Mogherini, the EU Commission Vice President and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, also said no other EU officials were involved, adding: “The flight was not related to any of EU activities.”

The Maltese government said the plane was leased to a Luxembourg company and that witnesses reported no explosion before it hit the ground.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, said the plane was a reconnaissance aircraft planned to fly over the Mediterranean.

Three officials from his ministry and two private contractors, all French, were on board.

The US-registered plane, number N577MX, last underwent an airworthiness inspection in 2011, according to records held by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

An inquiry into the cause of the disaster will be opened by Malta's Bureau of Air Accident Investigation.

All departures and arrivals at Malta International Airport were stopped as recovery work continued, with flights diverted to airports on the Italian island of Sicily.

The airport was reopened shortly after 11am local time but delays and disruption were expected to continue. Live information can be found here.

Additional reporting by agencies

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