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Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima and Nine Others Die in Plane Crash

June 11, 2024

Photo credit: Leadership 

 

Malawian Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others were killed in a plane crash amidst severe weather in the country’s northern region, President Lazarus Chakwera announced on Tuesday. Chilima was 51.

President Chakwera delivered the tragic news in a live broadcast on state television, revealing that the wreckage of the small military plane was discovered after an intensive search of more than 24 hours. The crash site, located in the rugged, forested Viphya Mountains near Mzuzu, was difficult to access, complicating rescue efforts. Chakwera confirmed the plane was “completely destroyed” and all aboard perished on impact.

“I am deeply saddened and sorry to inform you all that it has turned out to be a terrible tragedy,” Chakwera said. “Words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is, and I can only imagine the pain and anguish you all must be feeling at this time, as well as in the coming days and weeks as we mourn this terrible loss.”

Chilima, a dedicated public servant and father, was remembered by Chakwera as “a good man, a devoted father and husband, a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction, and a formidable vice president.” The president called for a moment of silence, standing with his head bowed during his address.

Among the deceased was former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi. The aircraft carried seven passengers and three military crew members. The group was en route to Mzuzu for the funeral of a former government minister when the crash occurred. Chilima had just returned from an official visit to South Korea on Sunday.

The search operation mobilized hundreds of soldiers, police officers, and forest rangers, who scoured the dense forest plantation after the plane went missing on Monday morning. The flight, lasting just 45 minutes, was traveling from the capital, Lilongwe, to Mzuzu, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) to the north.

Air traffic controllers had advised the plane against landing at Mzuzu’s airport due to poor weather and visibility, suggesting a return to Lilongwe. Subsequently, the aircraft lost contact with air traffic control and disappeared from radar.

The ill-fated plane, a Dornier 228 twin propeller aircraft, had been in service with the Malawian armed forces since 1988. The plane’s absence of a transponder has raised concerns, particularly as it carried high-ranking officials.

Vice President Chilima was in his second term, having previously served from 2014-2019 under former President Peter Mutharika. He ran in the 2019 presidential election, placing third. Following an annulled election due to irregularities, Chilima joined Chakwera’s successful campaign as running mate in the historic 2020 rerun, marking a first in Africa where a court-overturned election resulted in the defeat of a sitting president.

 

 

 

Recently, Chilima had faced corruption charges but was exonerated last month after prosecutors dropped the case. This led to critiques of the administration’s stance on corruption, despite Chilima’s consistent denials.

The international community, including the U.S., the U.K., Norway, and Israel, responded to the search efforts, offering specialized technologies. The U.S. Embassy in Malawi contributed a Department of Defense small C-12 plane to aid in the search.

Officials from Chilima’s United Transformation Movement party criticized the government’s response as sluggish, noting the absence of a transponder on the aircraft.

Malawi, a nation of approximately 21 million, was ranked the fourth poorest country globally by the World Bank in 2019.

 

Credit: AP

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