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Malawi searches for VP's plane, fearing crash

By AFP
Malawi A plane carrying Malawi's vice president, Saulos Chilima, disappeared on Monday.  By AMOS GUMULIRA (AFP/File)
TUE, 11 JUN 2024 LISTEN
A plane carrying Malawi's vice president, Saulos Chilima, disappeared on Monday. By AMOS GUMULIRA (AFP/File)

Malawian rescuers combed a fog-cloaked forest on Tuesday as the search for Vice President Saulos Chilima's missing plane intensified, with the United States and neighbouring African nations sending search aircraft.

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.

Operations were focusing on a forest south of Mzuzu on Tuesday.

"When the plane went missing, we managed to locate the last tower at which the phones had transmitted, that is why we are concentrating our efforts on that area," Moses Kunkuyu, a spokesman for President Lazarus Chakwera's government, told a news conference.

Army commander General Paul Valentino Phiri said other countries, including Malawi's neighbours, were aiding the effort, with support including helicopters and drones.

The US Embassy in Lilongwe said it was working with the government to "offer all available assistance" including the use of a C-12 military aircraft.

But footage shared by members of the search team showed bad weather persisted on Tuesday, with foggy conditions hampering visibility.

"We join President Chakwera in his prayers for the well-being of all those on board," the US embassy said.

'Heartbreaking'

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

Malawi's former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri was also on board.

Chakwera said on Monday that soldiers would continue looking for the plane until it was found and the state would spare no resources to that end.

"I know that this is a heartbreaking situation. I know that we are all frightened and concerned," he said in an evening address to the nation.

"I too am concerned. But I want to assure you that I am sparing no available resource to find that plane, and I am holding on to every fibre of hope that we will find survivors."

Phiri said the army has set up an emergency command centre and would provide updates every two hours.

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

But in 2022, during his second stint in the job, 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.

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