Five people died this morning after the aircraft they were flying in crashed shortly after take-off in Luqa at around 7.20am. The aircraft carrying two pilots and three French intelligence officers crashed just outside Malta International Airport on Monday.
The flight was part of a French surveillance operation, launched five months ago, aimed at tracking the illicit trafficking of humans and drugs, the government said.
Sources said the plane crashed near the runway soon after take-off and burst into flames. An eyewitness told Times of Malta they saw the plane take-off and rise before it suddenly tipped onto its right side "and went straight down into the ground."
Footage taken from another plane on the tarmac showed the wreckage burning in a field, sending a huge plume of black smoke into the air as passengers could be heard crying.
There were not believed to be any survivors from the disaster, which is Malta's worst peacetime air accident.
Mater Dei hospital staff have been placed in major incident mode. Emergency services are on site and flights to and from Malta International Airport have been halted. In a statement, MIA said that the aerodrome will remain closed until further notice. It apologised to passengers for the inconvenience.
Officials said the flight was heading for the city of Misrata in Libya and there was no immediate confirmation of the nationality of the victims.
Local reports initially said it was carrying officials from the EU border agency, Frontex, but a spokesperson later said no staff were on board.
Another eyewitness said debris had also fallen into the nearby AFM barracks. The plane crashed "maybe 10 metres" away from him.
"I heard the scream of a plane, and then saw it come crashing down. It burst into flames immediately," the man said. "Very little of the plane was left, just some debris."
An inquiry into the cause of the disaster will be opened by Malta's Bureau of Air Accident Investigation. The aircraft a twin-propeller Metroliner, can carry around 10 people.