Unaccompanied minors among Indian passengers on flight grounded in France

PARIS (Reuters) -Eleven unaccompanied minors were among 303 Indian passengers on a plane grounded in France, a source close to the Paris prosecutor’s office said on Saturday, as an investigation into suspected human trafficking continues.

Emergency services in Marne, north east France, installed makeshift beds for the stranded passengers, who were given access to toilets and showers and provided meals and hot drinks in the hall of Vatry airport, a spokeswoman for the Marne prefect’s office said in a statement.

Officials from the Indian general consulate were visiting them regularly, she added.

The flight, which was operated by Romanian charter company Legend Airlines and bound for Nicaragua, landed at Vatry on Thursday for a technical stopover en route from Dubai when French police intervened, the prefect’s office said on Friday.

It said a judicial investigation into the conditions and purpose of the trip had been launched, with a unit specialising in organised crime investigating suspected human trafficking.

The source close to the Paris prosecutor’s office said the 11 unaccompanied minors had been given “ad-hoc tutors” by French authorities.

The source added that two passengers who were held for questioning were still in police custody on Saturday. The prosecutor’s office had said on Friday that authorities had been tipped off by an anonymous informant.

A lawyer representing Legend Airlines said on Saturday the plane’s crew had been released after questioning.

“The members of the crew have been questioned, the questioning has ended and they are all free to move. None has been put in custody,” Liliana Bakayoko told BFM TV.

The flight was chartered by a “trusted” client, Bakayoko said, adding that it was a non-European company which the airline did not want to name.

Legend Airlines did not understand why the plane had been grounded, she added.

The Indian embassy in Paris and the Indian foreign ministry did not immediately reply to request for comment on Saturday.

(Reporting by Kate Entringer; Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mike Harrison)