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Malawi's VP confirmed dead after his aircraft went missing

June 11, 2024

Malawi's Vice President Saulos Chilima has been confirmed dead after his aircraft went missing. The wreckage was found in the remote Chikangawa Forest with no survivors.

Malawi's Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima in a black and white photo
Chilima, 51, had planned to stand as a presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for September 2025Image: Reuters TV/REUTERS

An airplane carrying Malawi's Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima was found in the country's Chikangawa Forest on Tuesday, President Lazarus Chakwera said.

Malawian rescuers had combed the forest in the hunt for the missing plane, with the United States, and neighboring African nations, sending search aircraft. 

Chakwera announced the news in a live address on state television. 

No survivors

"The search and rescue team have found the aircraft... completely destroyed with no survivors, as all passengers on board were killed on impact," Chakwera said.

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

Chakwera said he had previously flown on the same aircraft, which the crew had successfully operated only 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. 

What we know about Malawi's vice president plane crash

The military plane carrying 51-year-old Chilima and nine others disappeared on Monday after its crew was told not to land in the northern city of Mzuzu due to bad weather and poor visibility. 

The plane departed Lilongwe just after 9 a.m. local time (0700 GMT/UTC) with passengers set to attend the funeral of a former cabinet minister in Mzuzu, some 370 kilometers (230 miles) away. Malawi's former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was also on board.

The aircraft — a Dornier 228-type twin-propeller plane that was delivered to the Malawian army in 1988 — had been set to return to the capital, Lilongwe, after being denied landing permission.

In a previous statement, Chakwera said air traffic control had lost contact with the aircraft and it disappeared from radar. Chakwera said he had ordered an immediate search and rescue operation. Some 600 personnel were involved in the search in hilly, foggy forest land near Mzuzu.

Who was Saulos Chilima?

Chilima was first elected as vice president in 2014. He was widely popular among young people.

In 2019, Chilima stood as a presidential candidate for the United Transformation Movement, which rivaled Chakwera's party. The vote was later annulled over polling irregularities after both had lost.

In the following year, the duo won as presidential and vice presidential running mates.

However, Chilima was stripped of his powers in 2022 after he was arrested and charged with graft amid a bribery scandal. The charges were dropped just last month, allowing him to resume 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."

rc/kb (AFP, Reuters)