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    Malawi VP's plane may have crashed in forest, army says

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    Malawi VP's plane may have crashed in forest, army says
    • June 11, 2024 • 5 days ago
    in summary
    A plane carrying Malawi's Vice-President Saulos Chilima may have crashed in Chikangawa Forest in the north of the country, according to a senior military official. The military aircraft, which disappeared from radars on Monday morning, was flying in bad weather. Search efforts have been hindered by fog reducing visibility. President Lazarus Chakwera assured Malawians that all available resources are being used to find the plane, while Dr. Chilima's party, the United Transformation Movement (UTM), criticized the delayed start of the search. Dr. Chilima was en route to represent the government at a burial when the incident occurred. The vice-president, a popular figure in Malawi, has held his position since 2014.

    A plane carrying Malawi's Vice-President Saulos Chilima is feared to have crashed in Chikangawa Forest, in the north of the country, a senior military official reported. The military aircraft, carrying Chilima and nine others, disappeared from airport radars on Monday morning while flying in bad weather conditions. The disappearance has triggered a massive search operation in the forest, which has been hampered by dense fog.

    Malawi Defence Force commander Paul Valentino Phiri confirmed in a press briefing on Tuesday that visibility in the forest is severely reduced, complicating the search efforts. Soldiers have been tirelessly combing through the forest, determined to locate the missing aircraft. 

    President Lazarus Chakwera addressed the nation on Monday evening, expressing his deep concern and urging the continuation of the search until the plane is found. "I know that 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 fibre of hope that we will find survivors."

    Despite the government's commitment, Dr. Chilima's party, the United Transformation Movement (UTM), voiced their disappointment with the search operation. UTM officials alleged that the search began at 15:00 local time (16:00 EAT), five hours after the plane went missing at 10:00. This delay, they argue, may have cost valuable time in the critical early hours of the search.

    Dr. Chilima, 51, who has been Malawi’s vice-president since 2014, was on his way to represent the government at the burial of former government minister Ralph Kasambara, who passed away four days earlier. The flight, which took off from the capital Lilongwe, was headed for the northern city of Mzuzu. However, due to poor visibility, the plane was turned back and has since been untraceable.

    Malawi VP
    Saulos Chilima has been Malawi VP since 2014

    Among those on the flight was former First Lady Shanil Dzimbiri. The disappearance has sent shockwaves through the nation, where Dr. Chilima is widely loved, particularly among the youth. Known for his dynamic leadership and reformist agenda, Chilima has been a prominent figure in Malawi's political landscape. Despite his popularity, he faced legal troubles in 2022 when he was arrested and charged with accepting money in exchange for awarding government contracts. The charges were unexpectedly dropped last month, with no reasons provided by the court.

    President Chakwera revealed that he has reached out to the governments of the US, UK, Norway, and Israel, who have all offered support in various capacities to aid in the search efforts. The international community's involvement underscores the gravity of the situation and the widespread concern for the vice-president's safety.

    The plane’s disappearance has also highlighted the challenges of aviation in Malawi, where infrastructure and resources for search and rescue operations are often limited. The bad weather and difficult terrain of Chikangawa Forest have further complicated the mission.

    The nation remains on edge as the search continues, with hopes pinned on the possibility of finding survivors. President Chakwera’s assurance of relentless efforts provides a measure of comfort, but the delay in the initial response has cast a shadow over the operation's effectiveness.

    In these tense moments, the unity and resilience of Malawians are being tested. The fate of Vice-President Saulos Chilima and the others on board hangs in the balance, as the search teams battle against time and nature to uncover the whereabouts of the missing plane.

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