VALLETTA (REUTERS/AFP) - A light aircraft crashed shortly after take-off from Malta on Monday (Oct 24), killing five French nationals on board in the island nation's worst peacetime air accident, airport sources and witnesses said.
The plane had been chartered by French customs and had been involved in the surveillance of people and drugs trafficking off Malta, the government said in a statement. It added that there was no indication of an explosion on board prior to the crash.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said three French Defence Ministry officials and two private contractors died in the crash, and the ministry will conduct an investigation on what caused the crash on Monday morning.
The crash happened at about 5.30am GMT as the plane was heading for Misrata in Libya, airport officials told Reuters.
Television footage showed flames rising from wreckage near the runway, sending thick black smoke into the sky.
All flights to and from Malta International Airport were halted, The Times of Malta said on its website.
Airport officials initially said the plane was believed to be carrying officials from EU border agency Frontex. But the European Union border agency said no Frontex staff were involved the crash. "No Frontex staff was involved in the plane crash in Malta," the agency said on Twitter.
The plane, a twin-prop Metroliner, can carry around 10 people.