Malawi vice president and 9 others confirmed dead after plane wreckage located
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Malawi vice president and 9 others confirmed dead after plane wreckage located

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

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

Chakwera said he had been informed by the head of the Malawi Armed Forces that the plane had been found and “I am deeply saddened and sorry to inform you that this 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 right now, as well as how much pain and anguish you will all feel in the days to come and the weeks to come 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 of silence and stood with his head bowed in front of the podium where he was making his speech.

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

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 and rangers had been searching for the plane since it disappeared Monday morning while on a 45-minute flight from Lilongwe, the capital of the southern African country, to Mzuzu , about 370 kilometers to the north. .

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 turn back to Lilongwe, Chakwera said in a speech on Monday evening. Air traffic control then lost contact with the plane and it disappeared from radar, he said.

The president described the plane as a small propeller plane operated by the Malawi Armed Forces. The tail number he provided indicated that it was a Dornier 228 type twin-propeller aircraft that had been delivered to the Malawian army in 1988, according to the ch-aviation website which tracks the information on planes.

About 600 people took part in the search at a large forest plantation in the Viphya Mountains near Mzuzu, authorities said, including about 300 police officers, 200 soldiers and local forest guards.

Chilima was in his second term as vice president. He also held this position from 2014 to 2019 under former President Peter Mutharika. He was a candidate in the 2019 Malawian presidential election and finished third, behind incumbent Mutharika and Chakwera. The vote was later annulled by the Constitutional Court of Malawi due to irregularities.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as a vice-presidential candidate in a historic repeat election in 2020, when Chakwera was elected president. It was the first time in Africa that an electoral result annulled by a court resulted in a defeat for the sitting president.

Chilima had recently faced corruption charges following allegations that he received money in exchange for his influence over the awarding of public contracts for the Malawi armed forces and police, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. He had denied the allegations, but the affair sparked criticism that Chakwera’s administration was not taking a strong enough stance against corruption.

The search for the plane lasted more than 24 hours and sparked an international response. Chakwera had said the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and Israel had offered to help in the search operation and provided “specialized technologies”.

The US Embassy in Malawi said it had also provided assistance and offered the use of a small C-12 aircraft from the Department of Defense.

However, officials from Chilima’s 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 board the plane, which was worrying for a plane carrying a high-level delegation.

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

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Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

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