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Missing military plane in Malawi: Vice President and former first lady among passengers

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera has deployed soldiers, police officers, and forest rangers to continue the search on Tuesday for a missing military plane. The plane carried Malawi’s vice president, a former first lady, and eight others. It is suspected to have crashed in a mountainous region north of the country.

The aircraft, which was carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima and former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, disappeared on Monday morning during its 45-minute journey from the capital city of Lilongwe to Mzuzu, a distance of 370 kilometres (230 miles) to the north in the southern African nation.

Also Read: Plane Carrying Malawian Vice President Goes Missing

President Lazarus Chakwera stated that air traffic controllers advised the plane against landing at Mzuzu’s airport due to adverse weather conditions and poor visibility.

Subsequently, the aircraft lost contact with air traffic control and vanished from radar. Seven passengers and three military crew members were on board, and the president mentioned that it was a small, propeller-driven plane operated by the Malawian armed forces.

A search involving around 600 personnel took place in the expansive forest plantation in the Viphya Mountains near Mzuzu, with 300 police officers being mobilized to assist the soldiers and forest rangers. Felix Washoni, a spokesperson for the Malawi Red Cross, reported that their team members were involved in the search efforts and were employing a drone to aid in locating the aircraft.

In a televised address to the nation later on Monday, the president promised that search operations would continue throughout the night until the plane was located. He stated that telecommunications towers were used to trace the plane’s last known position to a 10-kilometre (6-mile) radius within one of the plantations, which was the main focus of the search and rescue effort.

“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. “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 in the search operation and had offered the use of a Department of Defense small C-12 plane.

Chakwera said Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was also one of the passengers. The group was travelling 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 has been Malawi’s vice president since 2020. He was a candidate in the 2019 Malawian presidential election and finished third, behind the incumbent, Peter Mutharika, and Chakwera. Malawi’s Constitutional Court later annulled the vote because of irregularities.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate in a historic election rerun in 2020, when Chakwera was elected president. It was the first time in Africa that an election result that a court overturned 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 contracts, 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.

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