A military plane carrying French nationals has crashed in Malta. All five aboard are believed to have perished in the early morning accident.
A light plane crashed Monday, shortly after take-off from Malta's airport in Luqa, killing five French nationals, airport sources said. Malta's government said the flight was part of a French Customs surveillance operation tracing routes used by smugglers operating from Libya's coast.
Earlier, authorities had said the flight was headed to Misrata, Libya; the government later clarified that the chartered aircraft was due to return to Malta within a few hours without landing elsewhere. Malta's International Airport is used for surveillance flights to Libya due to its proximity and the French Customs operation has been active for about five months.
Witnesses said the plane was registered in Luxembourg and crashed near the runway soon after take-off at 7.10 a.m. (0510 UTC) and subsequently burst into flames.
Times of Malta reported that some of the burning wreckage ended up on the airport perimeter road and firefighters on the scene were spraying the area with flame retardant foam.
The twin-prop Fairchild Metroliner propeller plane was registered in the United States and leased to a contractor in Luxembourg. The fatal crash is Malta's worst peacetime aircraft crash, and Malta's sole airport remains closed until further notice.
jar/kl (Reuters, dpa)