After 4 Days, Grounded Plane Finally Leaves Rural France

Indian passengers bound for Nicaragua were caught up in human trafficking allegations
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 25, 2023 6:52 AM CST
Updated Dec 25, 2023 8:54 AM CST
Plane Suspected of Trafficking Is Cleared to Leave France
Gendarmes patrol by the plane grounded by police on suspicion of carrying trafficking victims at the Vatry airport, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023 in Vatry, eastern France. A charter plane carrying 303 Indians to Nicaragua was authorized Sunday to leave the airport where it has been grounded for four days.   (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
UPDATE Dec 25, 2023 8:54 AM CST

A charter plane grounded in France for a human trafficking investigation departed on Monday for India, after an exceptional holiday ordeal that left about 300 Indians en route to Central America blocked inside a rural French airport for four days. The unmarked Legend Airlines A340 took off from Vatry Airport in Champagne after the crew and about 200 other people boarded the plane, per the AP. It wasn't immediately clear what would happen with those who didn't board the plane, some of whom reportedly sought asylum in France. Two passengers were detained to face possible charges including involvement in an organized criminal group helping foreigners enter or stay in a country illegally.

Dec 25, 2023 6:52 AM CST

A charter plane grounded in France for a human trafficking investigation is scheduled to leave Monday for India, after an ordeal that left some 300 Indians en route for Central America blocked inside a rural French airport for days. A lawyer for the airline says most of the passengers will be aboard. French authorities are still investigating the aim of the original flight, en route from the United Arab Emirates to Nicaragua, and two passengers have been detained. Prosecutors wouldn't comment on what kind of human trafficking was alleged, or whether the passengers' ultimate destination could have been the US, which has seen a surge in Indians crossing the Mexico-US border this year.

French authorities worked through Christmas Eve and morning on formalities to allow passengers to leave the Vatry airfield in Champagne country, regional prosecutor Annick Browne told the AP. The passengers include a 21-month-old child and 11 unaccompanied minors who were put under special administrative care. The Legend Airlines A340 plane stopped Thursday for refueling in Vatry en route from Fujairah airport for Managua, Nicaragua, and was grounded by police based on an anonymous tip that it could be carrying trafficking victims. The airport was requisitioned by police for days, and then turned into a makeshift courtroom Sunday as judges, lawyers, and interpreters filled the terminal to carry out emergency hearings.

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Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko said it received approval from French authorities to transport 301 of the 303 passengers on a flight Monday to Mumbai, but that the final figure is expected to be lower. Several passengers have requested asylum in France, according to an official with the Marne regional prefecture. Other passengers don't want to go to India because they paid for a tourism trip to Nicaragua. The airline has denied any role in possible human trafficking. Nicaragua has also been used as a migratory springboard for people fleeing poverty or conflict because of relaxed or visa-free entry requirements for some countries. Sometimes charter flights are used.

(More human trafficking stories.)

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