An Airbus A340 bound for Nicaragua, carrying 303 passengers, a significant number of whom are believed to be Indian, and previously grounded at a Paris airport due to alleged links to human trafficking, has reportedly departed for Mumbai, as per a late Monday report by the French newspaper Le Monde. The flight will land in Mumbai tomorrow, as per reports. The departure followed several hours of uncertainty surrounding the aircraft's status, with conflicting reports suggesting that a considerable portion of the passengers were reluctant to return to their respective home nations.
Liliana Bakayoko, legal counsel for Romania's Legend Airlines, the registered owner of the plane, described the situation as confusing during an earlier statement to a French TV channel and radio network. According to Bakayoko, some passengers expressed dissatisfaction as they wished to proceed with their journey to Nicaragua as originally planned.
In an earlier communication with PTI, Bakayoko had mentioned that the plane was scheduled to leave France at 10 am local time (2:30 PM IST) and arrive late Monday or early Tuesday. She assured Le Monde that all necessary clearances had been secured for the aircraft's departure.
At that point, she noted that only around 200-250 passengers had agreed to return, encompassing those not in police custody or those who hadn't appealed to the French authorities for asylum.
However, shortly thereafter, law enforcement informed Le Monde that the aircraft would not depart "before noon."
Two passengers onboard detained in France
It is believed that at least two passengers, who lacked authorisation to leave, have been detained. Additionally, around a dozen others have reportedly sought asylum, with their current status remaining unknown.
According to Le Monde, the two individuals may face charges related to conspiring to assist undocumented foreigners in entering the country. Reports suggest that among the passengers, some spoke Tamil, while others communicated in Hindi.
The two individuals not granted permission to depart were allegedly asked "to verify" if their role "may have been different than the others in this transport, and under what conditions and with what objectives".
The flight, operating as a charter service from Dubai, had initially landed at the airport, situated approximately 160 km from Paris, for refueling. Subsequently, it was grounded following a tip-off indicating that the passengers were "likely to be victims of human trafficking."
Insiders informed the news agency AFP that the aircraft might be associated with a criminal syndicate attempting to illicitly transport individuals into the United States through the Central American country.
The inquiry is currently being spearheaded by France's anti-organized crime unit, JUNALCO.
In France, human trafficking is punishable by a potential sentence of up to 20 years.
On Sunday, authorities had initially stated that the plane was permitted to depart. This decision followed extensive questioning of all passengers by local judges. According to French law, foreign nationals can be detained for extended periods upon arrival.
India thanks French authorities
Consular access had been granted to Indian citizens aboard the aircraft, and the Indian government had stated that it is collaborating with the French authorities to address the situation. Officials had ensured that passengers have access to makeshift beds, food, water, as well as facilities such as toilets and showers directly at the airport.
Soon after the reports of the plane taking of from France surfaced, the Indian Embassy in France took to X (formerly Twitter) to thank the French authorities.
"Thank French Gov and Vatry Airport for quick resolution of the situation enabling Indian passengers to return home & hospitality. Also for working closely with embassy team, present throughout at the site to ensure welfare and smooth & safe return. Thank agencies in India, too," the embassy wrote.