All people on board died when a surveillance plane crashed shortly after take-off at Malta International Airport on Monday.

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French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that three of the victims were ministry staff while the other two were contractors.

Early reports that the victims had been officials from the EU’s border agency were quickly denied. Frontex said none of its staff had been involved.

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The Maltese government said the flight had been due to return to the island within hours without landing in third countries.

According to eyewitness, Ben Cundall said Passengers on a nearby flight waiting to depart watched in horror as flames shot out and a dark plume of smoke billowed from the wreckage.

“Everyone was screaming,” he said. “The flames were the length of an aircraft, so it was clear to everyone what had happened straight away,” he told reporters on scene.

Ben Cundall says he could see the burning wreckage of the plane as he waited on a nearby flight.

Ben Cundall says he could see the burning wreckage of the plane as he waited on a nearby flight.

The Fairchild Metroliner, which was taking part in an operation to track illicit human and drug trafficking routes, crashed at 7:20 a.m. (1:20 a.m. ET) Monday, officials said.

An investigation into the causes of the crash is to be conducted by the French defence ministry

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