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Malawi vice president, nine others die after plane crashes in dense forest

A plane carrying Malawi Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima crashed in a dense forest, killing Chilima and all nine others aboard, Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera said Tuesday during an address to the nation.

The plane disappeared from radar early Monday, but the search and rescue operations were hampered by foggy weather around the Chikangawa forest, authorities said.

"I am deeply saddened and sorry to inform you all that it has turned out to be at terrible tragedy," Chakwera said. "The search and rescue team has found the aircraft … completely destroyed with no survivors as all passengers on board will killed on impact."

Chilima had been considered a likely candidate to challenge Chakwera in next year's presidential election.

Chilima was aboard a military aircraft that had flown out of Lilongwe, the capital, at 9:17 a.m. local time, bound for the city of Mzuzu, 250 miles to the north. Chilima had been scheduled to attend the funeral of a prominent lawyer Monday. Former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, the ex-wife of former President Bakili Muluzi, was among the seven passengers. Three military crew members also were aboard.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot shortly after issuing a warning not to attempt to land in Mzuzu because of foggy conditions. Before the wreckage was found, Chakwera said he contacted neighboring countries as well as the U.S., British, Norwegian and Israeli governments for help that included "specialized technologies" to enhance the search and rescue mission. More than 600 searchers converged on the area to search for the downed plane.

US Embassy 'deeply saddened'

The U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe said it had offered "all available assistance" including the use of a Defense Department C-12 aircraft.

"The U.S. Mission to the Republic of Malawi is deeply saddened by the news of the plane crash that claimed the life of Vice President Saulos Chilima and the nine individuals traveling with him on Monday," the embassy said in a statement. "At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the Vice President as well as with those of the accompanying victims."

Who is Saulos Klaus Chilima?

Chilima, 51, was arrested in 2022 on corruption charges, accused of taking payments to influence the awarding of government contracts. A court threw out the charges last month after the director of public prosecutions filed a notice for the case to be discontinued. Chilima denied wrongdoing.

Chakwera described Chilima, 51, as a patriotic citizen who "served his country with distinction."

Chilima, a married father of two, served as vice president from 2014-2019. He placed third in the 2019 presidential race, but the results of that race were thrown out by a Malawi court. He then ran as Chakwera's vice president in the 2020 election.

Malawi president recently flew on plane

The plane, operated by the Malawian armed forces, was a German-built, Dornier 228-type twin propeller model delivered to the Malawian army in 1988, the Associated Press reported. Chakwera said he had flown on the plane recently and that the plane and crew had completed successful flights as recently as Monday. Chilima’s United Transformation Movement political party − not the president's party − said there was no transponder on the plane and criticized the the government response as slow.

Where is Malawi located?

Malawi, a landlocked southeast African nation of about 20 million people, is one of the world's poorest nations. It is bordered by Zambia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Mozambique.

Contributing: Reuters

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