Saulos Chilima: Malawi vice president killed in plane crash along with 9 other passengers

Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima has been killed in a plane crash along with nine other passengers, the country’s President Lazarus Chakwera announced Tuesday.

The aircraft went missing after it failed to land at the Mzuzu International Airport, about 380 km (240 miles) to the north of the capital Lilongwe. The wreckage of the plane has been located, Chakwera said in an address to the nation.

“The search and rescue operation I ordered to find the missing plane that carried our vice president and nine others has been completed. The plane has been found. And I am deeply saddened and sorry to inform you that it has turned out to be a terrible tragedy,” Chakwera said.

The Malawian leader disclosed that the aircraft was found “completely destroyed” near a hill in the Chikangawa Forest in northern Malawi, adding that “words cannot describe how heartbreaking this is.”

Chakwera paid tribute to his deputy, describing him as “a good man, a devoted father and husband, (and) a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction.”

“His passing is a terrible loss to his wife, Mary, his family, his friends, his colleagues in the cabinet and to all of us as a nation,” Chakwera said in his address from the Malawian capital. The president also mourned the loss of the other passengers onboard.

The Malawian leader highlighted the tragic nature of the accident, telling journalists that he had himself previously traveled on the same aircraft.

“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,” he added.

On Monday evening, the president had told journalists that air traffic control had advised the vice president’s plane against trying to land, and recommended turning back to the capital due to poor visibility. Not long after, the authorities lost contact with the aircraft, and started a search operation.

Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima is seen campaigning in 2019.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Malawi Defence Force said it had deployed drones and at least 200 soldiers to search for the plane at the Chikangawa Forest reserve where signals of its whereabouts were last received.

The Force Commander Paul Valentino Phiri said rescue operations had been delayed by bad weather conditions.

The vice president and nine other victims will all be laid to rest in “a dignified manner,” Chakwera said.

Their remains arrived in the capital Tuesday evening and were received by Chakwera, live visuals showed.

The country will observe a 21-day national mourning for Chilima and the other officials killed in the crash. The mourning period will start on June 11 and last until July 1, according to a statement from the president’s office.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “very saddened” to hear of the plane crash. “We offer condolences to their families and we stand with the people of Malawi at this sad time,” he said.

Chilima, 51, had arrived back in Malawi on June 6 after attending the Korea-Africa Summit in Seoul last week. He first served as deputy to former President Peter Mutharika between 2014 and 2019 before being sworn in as vice president for a second time in 2020. An economist, Chilima previously headed Airtel Malawi, the first Malawian to lead the telecommunications company.

“I consider it one of the greatest honors of my life to have had him as my deputy and counsellor for the past four years,” President Chakwera said.

Chilima is survived by his wife Mary and two children.

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