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Soldiers, police and foresters continue to search for the missing plane carrying the Vice President of Malawi

Soldiers, police and forest rangers continue to search for a missing military plane that was carrying Malawi’s vice president, a former first lady and eight other people and is believed to have crashed in a mountainous region in the north of the country.

BLANTYRE, Malawi – Soldiers, police and forest rangers continued to search Tuesday for a missing military plane carrying Malawi’s vice president, a former first lady and eight other people that is believed to have crashed in a mountainous region in the north of the country.

The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima and former First Lady Shanil Dzimbiri disappeared on Monday morning during the 45-minute flight from the South African country’s capital, Lilongwe, to the city of Mzuzu, about 370 kilometers to the north.

Air traffic controllers asked the plane not to attempt a landing at Mzuzu airport because of bad weather and poor visibility and to return to Lilongwe, President Lazarus Chakwera said. Air traffic controllers then lost contact with the plane and it disappeared from radar, he said.

There were seven passengers and three military crew members on board. The president described the aircraft as a small propeller plane belonging to the Malawi armed forces.

About 600 people were involved in the search in a vast forest plantation in the Viphya Mountains near Mzuzu, authorities said. They said 300 police officers had been mobilized to assist soldiers and forest rangers in the search operation. Malawi Red Cross spokesman Felix Washoni said his organization also had team members involved in the search and they had deployed a drone to help in efforts to find the plane.

In a live televised address to the nation late Monday night, the president vowed that search operations would continue throughout the night and until the plane was found. He said authorities had used telecommunications towers to track the plane’s last known position within a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius of one of the plantations. That area is the focus of the search and rescue operation, he said.

“I have given strict instructions to continue the operation until the plane is found,” Chakwera said.

“I know this is a heartbreaking situation. I know we are all scared and worried. I am worried too,” he said. “But I want to assure you that I will spare no means available to find this plane. And I hold onto every fiber of hope that we will find survivors.”

Chakwera said the United States, Britain, Norway and Israel had offered help in the search operation and provided “special technologies” that the president hoped would help find the plane more quickly.

The US Embassy in Malawi said it was supporting the search and had offered the use of a small Department of Defense C-12 aircraft.

Chakwera said Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was also among the passengers. The group was on its way to attend the funeral of a former minister. Chilima had only returned from an official visit to South Korea on Sunday.

Chakwera asked Malawians to pray for everyone on board and their families.

Chilima has been Vice President since 2020. He ran in the 2019 Malawi presidential election, finishing third behind incumbent Peter Mutharika and Chakwera. The election was later annulled by Malawi’s Constitutional Court due to irregularities.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate in a historic 2020 re-election that saw Chakwera elected president. It was the first time in Africa that an election result annulled by a court resulted in defeat for the incumbent president.

Chilima had previously been charged with corruption for allegedly receiving money to influence the awarding of government contracts, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. He had denied the allegations, but the case sparked criticism that Chakwera’s government was not cracking down on corruption enough.

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Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

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AP Africa News: https://apnews.com/hub/africa