Valletta (Malta): Five persons were killed on Monday when a plane crashed in Malta near the runway soon after take-off and subsequently burst into flames, officials said.
All five victims were French nationals on a routine surveillance operation to trace trafficking routes, the government said in a statement.
"The flight was part of a French Customs surveillance operation which has been taking place for the past five months, with the aim of tracing routes of illicit trafficking of all sorts, including human and drug trafficking, amongst others," Sputnik news agency quoted the government as saying.
The Fairchild Metroliner Mark III aircraft registered in the US and leased to a Luxembourg-based company crashed soon after takeoff from Malta International Airport at 7.20 a.m. (local time), the statement confirmed.
The remains of all five French nationals on board have been found, the government said.
Contrary to reports of its intended destination of northern Libya, the Maltese government said the flight was registered with the Malta Air Traffic Services as a local flight scheduled to return "within hours without landing in third countries".
It was also reported that the plane was being used by European Union border agency Frontex, but the agency said on Twitter that the aircraft "was not deployed by Frontex" and that "No Frontex staff was involved" in the accident in Malta.
Meanwhile, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini tweeted "No #EU officials involved in plane crash in #Malta. The flight was not related to any of the EU activities" amid reports that EU officials were involved in the crash.
Airport officials said the aerodrome would be closed until further notice and that an investigation was ongoing.