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All killed on plane carrying Malawi's Vice President Chilima

The plane, a Malawian military aircraft, had successfully completed a trip just hours before the doomed flight, according to President Chakwera.
Last Updated : 11 June 2024, 10:59 IST
Last Updated : 11 June 2024, 10:59 IST

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The vice president of Malawi and nine other people were killed when their plane crashed in bad weather, the country's president said Tuesday.

The plane carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima went missing Monday morning, prompting a huge search operation in the southeastern African country.

In an address to the nation, President Lazarus Chakwera said rescue workers had discovered the wreckage in thick forest in the north of the country and that there were no survivors.

"Words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is," Chakwera said from the government's headquarters as a member of Chilima's political party wept loudly.

The president described Chilima, 51, as a "good man, a devoted father and husband and a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction."

The plane, a Malawian military aircraft, had successfully completed a trip just hours before the doomed flight, according to Chakwera.

"Despite the track record of the aircraft and the experience of the crew, something terrible went wrong with that aircraft," Chakwera said.

The aircraft took off at 9:17 am (12:47 pm IST) Monday from the Malawian capital, Lilongwe. The flight -- whose other passengers included Shanil Dzimbiri, a former first lady of Malawi; and three members of the Malawian military -- was bound for Mzuzu, less than an hour away, according to the government.

The plane was unable to land because of poor visibility caused by bad weather, Chakwera had said in a televised address late Monday. The pilot was instructed to turn back, but within minutes, the aircraft disappeared from radar.

Malawian authorities mounted an extensive search that continued through the night in the Chikangawa Forest, an uninhabited reserve that covers about 440 square miles.

On Tuesday morning, Gen. Paul Phiri of the Malawi Defense Force said at a news conference that nearly 200 soldiers had been involved in the search, which had been hindered by thick fog. Police officers, park rangers and civil aviation employees also participated in the effort, he added.

Malawian authorities also turned to other nations for assistance. The US Embassy in Lilongwe said it had lent an aircraft to aid in the search, while Chakwera said he had asked neighboring countries, along with Britain, Israel and Norway, for technological support. On Tuesday morning, the Malawi Red Cross joined the search effort.

Chilima had been expected to run for president in the 2025 election.

Visibly distraught people gathered Tuesday afternoon at the headquarters for his political party, the United Transformation Movement, in Lilongwe.

Chilima died, "before delivering what most of us thought he could do, to turn this economy around," Newton Kambala, a party member and former energy minister, told local news outlets.

Chilima was serving his second stint as Malawi's vice president. He entered Malawi's political scene a decade ago, leaving his role as head of one of the country's largest telecommunications companies to become the running mate for Peter Mutharika, who was elected president in 2014.

The two had a falling out in 2019, with Chilima accusing Mutharika of corruption. Chilima went on to start his own political party, the United Transformation Movement.

On Tuesday, Mutharika said in a statement that he was "deeply saddened to hear about the plane crash that claimed the precious life" of his former running mate.

Once political rivals, Chakwera and Chilima formed a coalition in 2019 after Mutharika won an election marred by irregularities. Chakwera and Chilima challenged the result, and, after a judicial panel ruled in their favor, their joint ticket won a do-over election in 2020.

In late 2022, Chilima was arrested by the Malawian Anti-Corruption Bureau over accusations that he had received kickbacks from a businessperson in exchange for government contracts. He denied any wrongdoing.

Malawian authorities abandoned the case and withdrew all charges against Chilima last month, but the scandal tarnished his image as a politician who had vowed to clean up corruption.

Chilima was born in the central Ntcheu District of Malawi. He studied economics at the University of Malawi and earned a doctorate in knowledge management from the University of Bolton in England, according to his official profile. He is survived by his wife, Mary Chilima, and their two children.

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Published 11 June 2024, 10:59 IST

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