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Monday, June 24, 2024

Malawi VP Chilima, wife Mary, 8 others die in plane crash

Malawi’s Vice President Dr. Saulos Chilima and 9 other people including his wife were killed when the plane they were travelling in crashed in the Chikangawa mountain range, the government said Tuesday. President Lazarus Chakwera declared Tuesday a national day of mourning.

“Unfortunately, all on board have perished in the crash,” the Office of the President and Cabinet said in a Tuesday morning statement. The confirmation came after more than a day-long search effort in a forested area in the mountains of northern Malawi. The military plane crashed Monday morning after it took off from the country’s capital Lilongwe.

Chilima, 51, and the other passengers had been headed to attend the funeral of the country’s former attorney general when their plane dropped off radar. Air traffic officials said the plane had been unable to land at Mzuzu airport, about 200 miles north of the capital, due to poor visibility, and the pilot had been advised to return to Lilongwe when the flight disappeared.

Addressing the nation on Tuesday, Chakwera said Chilima and his wife, along with seven military officers and another passenger, were in a a small military plane, said by the Associated Press to have been a Dornier 228-type twin propeller plane delivered to the Malawian army in 1988. The AP ascertained that information by cross-referencing the aircraft’s tail number, provided by Chakwera, with data provided by the ch-aviation website.

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Chilima, 51, had been seen in Malawi as a possible contender for next year’s presidential election.

A somewhat controversial figure, he’d been arrested in 2022 on graft allegations, amid reports that he’d received kickbacks from a businessman for government contracts.

Chilima consistently denied the charges, right up until last month, when they were dropped by the national prosecutor, who filed a notice for the discontinuation of the case.

In a televised national address Monday night, Chawera told the nation that the search and rescue operation would continue until Chilima’s plane was found.

“I know this is a heart breaking situation,” he said, “and we are all frightened and concerned.”

Several countries including the United States provided technological support in the search operation.

In a statement posted Tuesday morning on social media, the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe said it was “deeply concerned by the news of the crash” and added an offer of “all available assistance, including a Defense C-12 aircraft.”

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