Malawi vice president and 9 others confirmed dead after plane wreck found
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Malawi vice president and 9 others confirmed dead after plane wreck found

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Malawi 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, said Tuesday the president. Chilima was 51 years old.

President Lazarus Chakwera announced that the wreckage of the plane that went missing on Monday morning had been located after more than 24 hours of searching through thick forests and hilly terrain near the town of Mzuzu. He said the wreckage was found near a hill and the plane was “completely destroyed”, with everyone killed instantly.

It was a “terrible tragedy,” Chakwera said. “Words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is, and I can only imagine how much pain and anguish you all 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 transported to Lilongwe, the capital of the southern African country. The seven passengers included members of Chilima’s staff and security services, as well as former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi. There were three crew members.

Hundreds of soldiers, police and rangers had been searching 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) away. 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 turn back to Lilongwe. Air traffic control then lost contact with the plane and it disappeared from radar.

Chakwera said the wreckage was found in Chikangawa forest, south of Mzuzu. Images from the site showed thick fog over the hills and the remains of the plane in an open area near the tree line. The president described the plane as a small propeller plane operated by the Malawi Armed Forces.

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

Chilima and Chakwera had led Malawi under unusual circumstances. They both ran for president in 2019 as opposition candidates, but teamed up to challenge the election results in court over irregularities and won. They then won the new election – the first time in Africa that an electoral result overturned by a court resulted in a defeat for the incumbent president.

Chilima had said Chakwera had agreed to step down after his first term and allow him to contest next year’s presidential elections as part of their alliance. However, Chakwera announced that he would run for office, and signs of friction emerged between the two.

Chilima was also recently accused of corruption following allegations that he received money in exchange for his influence over the awarding of public contracts for the armed forces and police. Prosecutors dropped the charges last month. He had denied the allegations.

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, United Kingdom, Norway and Israel had offered assistance and provided “specialized technologies.” The US Embassy in Malawi said it had provided assistance and offered the use of a small C-12 aircraft from the Department of Defense. Malawi also asked its neighbors Zambia and Tanzania if they could help.

Malawi, a country of around 21 million people, 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. AP writer Farai Mutsaka contributed from Harare, Zimbabwe.

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