Malawi: Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others die in a plane crash

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others died when the small military plane in which they traveled It crashed in bad weather in a mountainous region in the country’s north, the president said Tuesday. Chilima was 51 years old.

President Lazaro Chakwera announced that the wreckage of the plane missing on Monday morning had been located after a more than 24-hour search in thick forests and mountainous terrain near the town of Mzuzu. He said the wreckage was found near a hill and that the plane had been “completely destroyed,” with everyone killed on impact.

It was a “terrible tragedy,” Chakwera said. “There are no words to describe how heartbreaking this is, and I can only imagine how much pain and anguish everyone must be feeling.” He called Chilima “a good man, a devoted father and husband, a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction and a formidable vice president.”

Chakwera said the remains of the victims were being taken to the southern african nation capital, Lilongwe. Among the seven passengers were members of Chilima staff and security personnel along with former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, ex-wife of former president Bakili Muluzi. There were three crew members.

FILE - Malawi's Vice President Saulos Chilima, left, and his wife Mary disembark from a plane upon their return from South Korea in Lillongwe, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Malawi's Vice President and nine others died in a crash air, the country's president said Tuesday.  The remains of the military plane carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima were located in a mountainous area in the north of the country after a search that lasted more than a day.  There were no survivors of the crash, Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera said.  Chakwera made the announcement in a live speech on state television.  (AP Photo, file)

Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima, left, and his wife Mary disembark from a plane upon their return from South Korea in Lillongwe, Sunday, June 9, 2024. (AP Photo)

Hundreds of soldiers, police and rangers had searched for the plane since it disappeared around 10 a.m. Monday while making the 45-minute flight from Lilongwe to Mzuzu, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) to the north.

The group was traveling to attend the funeral of a former government minister. Air traffic controllers told the plane not to attempt to land at Mzuzu airport due to bad weather and poor visibility and asked it to return to Lilongwe. Air traffic control then lost contact with the aircraft and it disappeared from radar.

Chakwera said the remains were found in Chikangawa forest, south of Mzuzu. Images from the scene showed thick fog over the hills and debris from the plane in an open area near the tree line. The president described the plane as a small propeller-driven aircraft operated by the Malawian armed forces.

Officials from the Chilima United Transformation Movement political party, a different party from the president, criticized the government’s response as slow and said there was no transponder on the plane, which was worrying for a plane carrying a high-level delegation. .

Chilima and Chakwera had led Malawi in unusual circumstances. Both ran for president in 2019 as opposition candidates, but they banded together to challenge the election results in court over irregularities and won. They then won a repeat election: first time in africa that an election result annulled by a court resulted in a defeat for the sitting president.

Chilima had said Chakwera had agreed to step down after his first term and allow him to run for president in next year’s elections as part of his alliance. However, Chakwera announced that he would run for re-election and there were signs of friction between the two.

Chilima had also recently faced corruption charges over allegations that he received money in exchange for influencing the awarding of government contracts for the military and police. Prosecutors dropped the charges last month. He had denied the accusations.

Chilima had just returned from an official visit to South Korea on Sunday. He was in his second term as vice president after serving from 2014 to 2019 under former president Peter Mutharika.

The search for the plane sparked an international response. Chakwera said the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and Israel had offered assistance and provided “specialized technologies.” The US embassy in Malawi said it had assisted and offered the use of a small Department of Defense C-12 aircraft. Malawi also asked its neighbors Zambia and Tanzania for help.

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

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Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa. AP writer Farai Mutsaka contributed from Harare, Zimbabwe.

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