June 13th, 2024

Soldiers search mountainous northern Malawi for missing military plane carrying vice president


By Gregory Gondwe And Gerald Imray, The Associated Press on June 10, 2024.

Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima, left, greets government officials upon his return from South Korea in Lillongwe, Sunday, June 9, 2024. A military plane carrying Malawi's vice president and nine others went missing Monday and a search was underway, the president's office said. The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima left the capital, Lilongwe, but failed to make its scheduled landing at Mzuzu International Airport about 370 kilometers (230 miles) to the north around 45 minutes later. (AP Photo)

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) – Soldiers are searching hills and forests near a city in northern Malawi after a military plane carrying the country’s vice president went missing in the area Monday, President Lazarus Chakwera said.

The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others left the southern African nation’s capital, Lilongwe, at 9.17 a.m. and was expected to land 45 minutes later at Mzuzu International Airport, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) to the north. But air traffic control told it to turn around because of bad weather and poor visibility, Chakwera said in an address broadcast live on state TV channel MBC. The aircraft disappeared from radar a short time later, he said.

“I know this is a heartbreaking situation. I know we are all frightened and concerned. I too am concerned,” Chakwera said. “But I want to assure you that I am sparing no available resource to find that plane. And I am holding onto every fiber of hope that we will find survivors.”

Mzuzu is Malawi’s third biggest city and the capital of the northern region. It lies in a hilly, forested area dominated by the Viphya mountain range, which has vast plantations of pine trees.

The president vowed that search operations would continue through the night.

“I have given strict orders that the operation should continue until the plane is found,” Chakwera said.

Chakwera said the U.S., the U.K., Norway and Israel offered assistance in the search operation.

Chilima has been vice president since 2020.

He was a candidate in the 2019 Malawian presidential election and finished third. That vote was won by incumbent Peter Mutharika but was annulled by Malawi’s Constitutional Court because of irregularities. Chakwera finished second in that election.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate in an historic election rerun in 2020, when Chakwera was elected president. It was the first time in Africa that an election result that was overturned by a court resulted in a defeat for the sitting president.

The vice president had been facing corruption charges over allegations that he received money in return for influencing the awarding of government contracts, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. That led to criticism that Chakwera’s administration was not taking a hard enough stance against graft.

Chilima was arrested in late 2022 and made several court appearances, but the trial has yet to start. He has denied the allegations.

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Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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