An Airbus A340 arriving from the United Arab Emirates found itself grounded at Vatry airport in eastern France on Thursday, following an anonymous tip-off to French authorities indicating the possibility of human trafficking.
The aircraft, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, had landed for a routine technical stopover.
The Paris prosecutor’s office informed that the plane was detained after suspicions were raised about passengers “likely to be victims of human trafficking.”
Two individuals are in custody, with identity checks underway for all 303 passengers and the cabin crew.
Authorities are scrutinizing the identity of those on board and investigating the passengers’ conditions during transport and the purpose of their journey. Disturbingly, it has been reported that minors are among the passengers.
The national anti-organized crime unit, JUNALCO, is spearheading the investigation, suggesting the seriousness and complexity of the case.
Sources close to the matter suggest that the passengers may have intended to travel to Central America with plans to attempt illegal entry into the United States or Canada.
After landing in France, passengers were initially kept on the aircraft before being given individual beds in the terminal building.
According to local authorities, as the investigation unfolds, they are set to remain at the airport overnight on Friday.
The Indian embassy in France promptly responded to the situation, stating on social media, “French authorities informed us of a plane w/ 303 people, mostly of Indian origin, from Dubai to Nicaragua detained on a technical halt at a French airport.
The embassy team has reached & obtained consular access. We are investigating the situation, also ensuring the wellbeing of passengers.”
While police and gendarmes cordoned off the entire airport, the airline, Legend Airlines, asserted it had done nothing wrong.
Liliana Bakayoko, representing the airline, said that Legend Airlines believes it committed no offence and is cooperating with French authorities. However, she added that legal action would be pursued if charges were filed.
Vatry Airport, situated 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of Paris, primarily serves budget airlines.
The prefecture in the northeastern department of Marne confirmed that the A340 remained grounded following its landing.
Legend Air, a Romanian company with a small fleet of four aircraft, had planned a refuelling stop while carrying 303 Indian nationals, likely employed in the UAE.
Border police in France have the authority to initially detain a foreign national for up to four days if they land in the country and are prevented from continuing their journey.
This period can be extended to eight days with judicial approval and, in exceptional circumstances, up to a maximum of 26 days.
As the investigation unfolds, the severity of the situation is underscored by the potential legal repercussions.
In France, human trafficking carries a sentence of up to 20 years, adding a layer of gravity to the unfolding events at Vatry airport.
This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members