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Malawi’s vice president and nine others have died after the wreckage of their plane was located

BLANTYRE, Malawi — Malawian Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine other people were killed when the small military plane they were traveling in crashed in bad weather in a mountainous area in the country’s north, the president said Tuesday. Chilima turned 51.

President Lazarus Chakwera announced in a live address on state television that the plane’s wreckage had been located after more than a day’s search in dense forests and hilly terrain near the northern city of Mzuzu. He said the wreckage was found near a hill and that the plane was “completely destroyed” and everyone on board was killed in the collision.

Chakwera said he was informed by the head of Malawi’s armed forces that the plane had been found and “I deeply regret to say that it has become a terrible tragedy.”

“Words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is and I can only imagine the pain and fear you all must be feeling right now, and the pain and fear you will all feel in the days and weeks to come as we grieve this. terrible loss,” Chakwera said.

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He said Chilima was “a good man, a devoted father and husband, a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction, and a formidable vice president.”

Chakwera asked everyone to observe a moment of silence and stood with his head bowed on the podium where he delivered his speech.

Former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was also on the plane, the president had said. There were seven passengers and three military crew members on board.

The group was traveling to Mzuzu to attend the funeral of a former minister. Chilima had just returned from an official visit to South Korea on Sunday.

Hundreds of soldiers, police and forest rangers had been searching for the plane since it went missing on Monday morning during the 45-minute flight from the southern African country’s capital, Lilongwe, to Mzuzu, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) north. .

Air traffic controllers told the plane not to land at Mzuzu airport due to bad weather and visibility and asked it to return to Lilongwe, Chakwera said in a speech late on Monday night. Air traffic control then lost contact with the plane and it disappeared from radar, he said.

The President described the aircraft as a small propeller plane operated by the Malawian Armed Forces. The tail number he provided showed it was a twin-propeller Dornier 228-type aircraft delivered to the Malawian military in 1988, according to the ch-aviation website that tracks aircraft information.

About 600 personnel were involved in the search in a vast forest plantation in the Viphya Mountains near Mzuzu, authorities said, including about 300 police, 200 soldiers and local forest rangers.

Chilima served his second term as vice president. From 2014 to 2019, he also held this role under former President Peter Mutharika. He stood as a candidate in Malawi’s 2019 presidential election and finished third, behind incumbent President Mutharika and Chakwera. The vote was later annulled by Malawi’s Constitutional Court due to irregularities.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate in a historic replay of the 2020 elections, when Chakwera was elected president. It was the first time in Africa that an election result overturned by a court resulted in a defeat for the incumbent president.

Chilima was recently charged with corruption over allegations that he received money in exchange for influencing the award of government tenders to Malawi’s armed forces and police, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. He had denied the allegations, but the case led to criticism that Chakwera’s government was not taking a tough enough stance against corruption.

The search for the plane lasted more than 24 hours and provoked international reactions. Chakwera had said the US, Britain, Norway and Israel had offered assistance in the search operation and provided “specialized technologies”.

The US Embassy in Malawi also said it had assisted and offered the use of a small C-12 aircraft from the Ministry of Defense.

However, officials from Chilima’s United Transformation Movement political party – a different party to the president – ​​criticized the government’s response as slow, saying there was no transponder on board, which was worrying for a plane carrying a delegation of high level.

Malawi is a country of approximately 21 million people and was ranked as the fourth poorest country in the world by the World Bank in 2019.

Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

AP Africa News: https://apnews.com/hub/africa