The plane carrying the Vice President of Malawi has disappeared, and the search is still ongoing

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — President Lazarus Chakwera said soldiers are searching mountainous forests near a city in northern Malawi after a military plane carrying the country’s vice president and former first lady disappeared in the area Monday.

The plane carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima, 51, former First Lady Chanel Dzimbiri and eight others left the southern African nation’s capital, Lilongwe, at 9.17am and was expected to land 45 minutes later at Mzuzu International Airport, about 370 kilometers away. (230 miles) to the north.

But air traffic control asked her not to attempt to land and return due to bad weather conditions and poor visibility, Chakwera said in a speech broadcast live on state broadcaster MBC.

He added that the air traffic control tower lost contact with the plane and it disappeared from radar screens a short time later.

“I know this is a heartbreaking situation. I know we are all afraid and worried. I am also worried,” Chakwera said. “But I want to assure you that I am not sparing any available resources to find that plane. “I hold on to every shred of hope that we will find survivors.”

Mzuzu is the third largest city in Malawi and the capital of the Northern Region. It is located in a mountainous forest area dominated by the Viphya mountain range, which includes extensive plantations of pine trees.

The president pledged to continue search operations throughout the night, and said that authorities using communications towers traced the plane’s last known location to a 10-kilometre (6-mile) radius on a farm. He added that this area was the focus of the search and rescue operation carried out by the Malawi Defense Forces.

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“I have given strict orders that the operation must continue until the plane is found,” Chakwera said.

Chakwera said the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and Israel have offered to assist in the search and provided “specialized technologies” that the president hopes will help find the plane sooner.

Chakwera said Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former president Bakili Muluzi, was also among the passengers. The group was traveling to attend the funeral of a former government minister. The president said that three of those on board were the military crew flying the plane.

Chakwera asked Malawians to pray for all those on board and their families.

Chilima has been Vice President since 2020.

He was a candidate in the 2019 Malawi presidential election and came in third place. This vote was won by current President Peter Mutharika, but the Constitutional Court in Malawi invalidated it due to irregularities. Chakwera finished second in that election.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate A historic re-election In 2020, when Chakwera was elected president. This was the first time in Africa that the result of an election annulled by a court led to the defeat of the incumbent president.

The vice president was facing corruption charges over allegations he received money in exchange for influencing the awarding of government contracts, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. This led to criticism that Chakwera’s administration had not taken a tough enough stance against graft.

Chilima was arrested in late 2022 and has appeared in court several times, but the trial has not yet begun. He has denied all charges.

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Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.


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