A plane that had been grounded in France for days over concerns its nearly 300 mostly Indian passengers were part of a human trafficking scheme landed in Mumbai early Tuesday, flight tracking data showed.
The Airbus A340 initially had been bound for Nicaragua when it was detained last Thursday at Vatry airport, east of Paris, where it had stopped for refuelling.
It had arrived from Dubai and there was an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking.
Of the original 303 people on the passenger list, 276 were on the plane that took off just before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) Monday.
It landed at Mumbai’s international airport after a nearly nine-hour flight, just after 4:00 am local time Tuesday (2230 GMT Monday), aviation tracking website Flightradar24 showed.
Among the passengers staying behind were two people questioned by French police over suspected people trafficking, but a judicial source said police released them after establishing that the 303 passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will.
The French authorities are continuing to investigate the case for violation of immigration laws, but no longer for potential people trafficking, judicial sources said.
The suspects’ release came because “the investigating judge was able to resist media pressure in this case”, said their lawyer, Salome Cohen.
The pair have received an expulsion order from France, their lawyers said.
The other 25 people have sought asylum in France, the prefecture said. Five of them are minors, it said, updating an earlier figure of two.
Their applications would be processed at Charles de Gaulle airport.
After questioning the passengers for two days, French prosecutors on Sunday gave the go-ahead for the plane to leave.
A source close to the inquiry told AFP that the Indians were likely workers in the United Arab Emirates who had been bound for Nicaragua as a jumping off spot for the United States or Canada.
The passengers of the flight, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, were put up at the airport during the investigation.
Beds, toilets and showers were installed, the local prefecture said, while police have prevented press and outsiders from entering the airport.
The passengers included 11 unaccompanied minors, according to Paris prosecutors.
The Indian embassy in Paris posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday that it was grateful for the “quick resolution” of the incident.
The authorisation for the plane to leave came after a French court ruled that any further detention of three of the passengers would be illegal.
But Genevieve Colas, coordinator at the Secours Catholique-Caritas association, said the release of the plane had “surprised” her.
“What if they really are victims of people trafficking?” she asked. “Then it wouldn’t be right to just let them take off to another country.”
The 30 crew members were not detained. Some handled the Dubai-Vatry leg and others were to take over for the flight to Managua.
The use of charter flights to aid migrants in getting to their dream destination “is a relatively new phenomenon,” Manuel Orozco, director of migration issues at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, told AFP last month.
Orozco said he believes that airline operators and Nicaraguan airport authorities made “an economic calculation” for their “mutual benefit.”
According to Flightradar24, Legend Airlines has just four planes. – AFP