Malawi vice president, 9 others killed in plane crash, says president

The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima and former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri went missing on Monday morning.
Malawi vice president, 9 others killed in plane crash, says president
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Malawi’s vice president and nine others were killed in a plane crash, the country’s president said Tuesday.

The wreckage of the military plane carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima was 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, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera said. Chakwera made the announcement in a live address on state television.

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Malawi vice president, 9 others killed in plane crash, says president

Hundreds of soldiers, police officers and forest rangers continued to search Tuesday for a missing military plane carrying Malawi's vice president, a former first lady and eight others that is suspected to have crashed in a mountainous region of thick forests in the north of the country.

The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima and former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri went missing Monday morning while making the 45-minute flight from the southern African nation's capital, Lilongwe, to the city of 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, President Lazarus Chakwera said. Air traffic control then lost contact with the aircraft and it disappeared from radar, he said.

Seven passengers and three military crew members were on board. The president described the aircraft as a small, propeller driven plane operated by the Malawian armed forces. The tail number he provided shows it is 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. They said 300 police officers had been mobilized to join around 200 soldiers and also local forest rangers in the search operation. Malawi Red Cross spokesperson Felix Washoni said his organization also had team members involved in the search and they were using a drone to help with efforts to find the plane.

Gen. Valentino Phiri, the commander of the Malawian armed forces, said Tuesday that the thick forest and hilly terrain were making the search operation extremely difficult. The area has large manmade forests used for lumber.

In a live television address to the nation late on Monday night, the president vowed that search operations would continue through the night and until the plane was found. He said authorities had used telecommunications towers to track the last known position of the plane to a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius in one of the plantations. That area was the focus of the search and rescue operation, he said.

“I have given strict orders that the operation should continue until the plane is found,” Chakwera said. “I know this is a heartbreaking situation. I know we are all frightened and concerned. I too am concerned,” he said in a speech after 11 p.m. that was broadcast on state TV. “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.” Chakwera said the U.S., the U.K., Norway and Israel offered assistance in the search operation and had provided “specialized technologies” that the president hoped would help find the plane sooner.

The U.S. Embassy in Malawi said it was assisting and had offered the use of a Department of Defense small C-12 plane. Gen. Phiri said Malawi had also asked for help from neighboring Zambia and Tanzania and helicopters and more drones were on their way.

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.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.

Chakwera said Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was also one of the passengers. The group was traveling to attend the funeral of a former government minister. Chilima had just returned from an official visit to South Korea on Sunday.Chakwera asked Malawians to pray for all those onboard and their families.

Chilima is 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 previously been facing 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.

Source: The Indian Express

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