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Malawi VP, nine others, killed in plane crash

Lilongwe, Malawi | June 13, 2024, Thursday @ 07:06 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 2320
Malawi VP, nine others, killed in plane crash

A newspaper vendor holds The Nation newspaper with a cover picture of the missing plane Vice State President Saulos Klaus Chilima in Lilongwe, on June 11, 2024. Malawian searchers have found the wreckage of a plane that was carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima, images from the scene showed on June 11, 2024, a day after the aircraft went missing in bad weather.

Photographs shared with AFP by a member of the military rescue team showed army personnel standing on a foggy slope near debris bearing the registration number of the Malawi army Dornier 228-202K aircraft. (Photo by Amos Gumulira / AFP)

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Malawi's Vice President Saulos Chilima was killed in a plane crash, the nation's president said on Tuesday, after searchers located the wreckage of the aircraft in a mist-shrouded forest.

The military plane carrying Chilima, 51, and nine others disappeared on Monday, after it failed to land in the northern city of Mzuzu due to bad weather and was told to return to the capital, Lilongwe.

Photographs shared with AFP by a member of the military rescue team showed army personnel standing on a foggy slope near debris bearing the registration number of the Dornier 228-202K aircraft operated by the Malawi Army Air Wing

"The search and rescue team have found the aircraft... completely destroyed with no survivors, as all passengers on board were killed on impact," Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera said, addressing the nation.

"Words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is," he said, describing the accident as a "terrible tragedy."

Rescuers had been combing a fog-cloaked forest south of Mzuzu on Tuesday, after authorities located the last tower it transmitted to before the plane disappeared.

Earlier, army commander General Paul Valentino Phiri said other countries, including Malawi's neighbours, had been aiding the search effort, with support including helicopters and drones.

The group departed just after 9:00 am (0700 GMT) from Lilongwe on Monday to attend the funeral of a former cabinet minister some 370 kilometres (230 miles) away in Mzuzu.

Malawi's former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, who was married to former president Bakili Muluzi, was also on board.

- Widely loved -

Chakwera said he had previously flown on the same aircraft for similar trips. The crew had successfully operated it just hours before the accident, he added.

"And yet, despite the track record of the aircraft and the experience of the crew, something terrible went wrong with that aircraft on its flight back to Lilongwe, sending it crashing down," he said.

First elected vice president in 2014, the charismatic yet stern-talking Chilima was a widely loved figure in Malawi, particularly among young people.

"I am deeply shocked and I am mourning. Saulos was like a son to me," former president Joyce Banda told AFP.

"This country has lost a genius, we have lost a champion who an expert in commerce and industry and he is one who believed that the private sector is the engine for growth.

"Unfortunately for me, I have to be personal as well, because he was like my son."

In the 2019 election, Chakwera had stood as presidential candidate for the Malawi Congress Party, and Chilima for the rival United Transformation Movement.

Both lost, but the vote was annulled over polling irregularities and when a new election was held in June 2020, the pair campaigned and won as presidential and vice-presidential running mates.

- Patriotic citizen -

But, in 2022, Chilima was stripped of his powers after being arrested and charged with graft over a bribery scandal involving a British-Malawian businessman.

Last month, a Malawian court dropped the charges and he resumed his official duties.

"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 said.

"I consider it one of the greatest honours of my life to have had him as my deputy and counsellor for the past four years."

Condolences poured in from around the world with the African Union, the European Union, the United States and others expressing sadness at the news.

"Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who lost their lives and with the people of Malawi at this tragic time," the British High Commission in Lilongwe wrote.

Chakwera said the military was in the process of taking the remains of those killed to the capital. Funeral arrangements would be announced later.

© Agence France-Presse

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