French surveillance airplane for migrant traffic crashes in Malta

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Investigators and rescue services at the scene of a plane crash at the airport in Valletta, Malta on Oct. 24. Photo by Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

Investigators and rescue services at the scene of a plane crash at the airport in Valletta, Malta on Oct. 24. Photo by Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

A small French surveillance airplane crashed onto the Mediterranean island nation of Malta on Monday morning, killing all five passengers.

The French defense ministry confirmed the crash but declined to say what the intended purpose of the surveillance operation was. The plane was heading toward Misrata in Libya, with three French defense ministry officials and two French pilots aboard, when it crashed during takeoff, Reuters reported.

The twin-propeller airplane was meant to monitor migrant trafficking routes for the French government, according to information from the Maltese government, the Associated Press reported. Libya is the main departure point for migrants who pay smugglers to get them across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Smoke billowed from the crash site, and the Malta International Airport was closed for several hours for cleanup. An investigation is underway.

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