June 23rd, 2024

Malawi’s vice president and 9 others are confirmed dead after the wreckage of their plane is located


By Gregory Gondwe And Gerald Imray, The Associated Press on June 11, 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) – Malawian Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine other people died when the small military plane they were traveling in crashed in bad weather in a mountainous region in the north of the country, the president said Tuesday. Chilima was 51.

President Lazarus Chakwera announced in a live address on state television that the wreckage of the plane had been located after a search of more than a day in thick forests and hilly terrain near the northern city of Mzuzu. He said the wreckage was found near a hill and the plane had been “completely destroyed” and everyone onboard was killed on impact.

Chakwera said he had been informed by the head of Malawi’s armed forces that the plane had been found and “I am deeply saddened and sorry to inform you all that it has turned out to be a terrible tragedy.”

“Words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is and I can only imagine how much pain and anguish you all must be feeling at this time, as well as how much pain and anguish you all will be feeling in the coming days and weeks as we mourn this terrible loss,” Chakwera said.

He said Chilima was “a good man, a devoted father and husband, a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction, and a formidable vice president.”

Chakwera asked everyone to observe a moment’s silence and stood with his head bowed at the podium where he was making his address.

Former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was also on the plane, the president had said. There were seven passengers and three military crew members onboard.

The group was traveling to Mzuzu to attend the funeral of a former government minister. Chilima had just returned from an official visit to South Korea on Sunday.

Hundreds of soldiers, police officers and forest rangers had been searching for the plane since it went missing Monday morning while making the 45-minute flight from the southern African nation’s capital, Lilongwe, to Mzuzu, around 370 kilometers (230 miles) to the north.

Air traffic controllers told the plane not to attempt a landing at Mzuzu’s airport because of bad weather and poor visibility and asked it to turn back to Lilongwe, Chakwera said in an address late Monday night. Air traffic control then lost contact with the aircraft and it disappeared from radar, he said.

The president described the aircraft as a small, propeller driven plane operated by the Malawian armed forces. The tail number he provided showed it to be a Dornier 228-type twin propeller plane that was delivered to the Malawian army in 1988, according to the ch-aviation website that tracks aircraft information.

Around 600 personnel were involved in the search in a vast forest plantation in the Viphya Mountains near Mzuzu, authorities said, including around 300 police officers, 200 soldiers and local forest rangers.

Chilima was serving his second term as vice president. He was also in the role from 2014-2019 under former President Peter Mutharika. He was a candidate in the 2019 Malawian presidential election and finished third, behind the incumbent, Mutharika, and Chakwera. The vote was later annulled by Malawi’s Constitutional Court because of irregularities.

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.

Chilima had recently faced corruption charges over allegations that he received money in return for influencing the awarding of government procurement contracts for the Malawi armed forces and the police, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. He had denied the allegations, but the case led to criticism that Chakwera’s administration was not taking a hard enough stance against graft.

The search for the plane lasted more than 24 hours and provoked an international response. Chakwera had said the U.S., the U.K., Norway and Israel had offered assistance in the search operation and had provided “specialized technologies.”

The U.S. Embassy in Malawi said it also had assisted and had offered the use of a Department of Defense small C-12 plane.

However, officials with Chilima’s United Transformation Movement political party – a different party to the president – criticized the government response as slow and said there was no transponder on the plane, and that was concerning for an aircraft carrying a high-level delegation.

Malawi is a country of around 21 million people and was ranked as the fourth poorest nation in the world by the World Bank in 2019.

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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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