Malawi Vice President’s Plane Missing, Search Underway

Soldiers are searching hills and forests near a city in northern Malawi after a military plane carrying the country’s vice president went missing in the area on Monday, President Lazarus Chakwera said.

The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others departed from the nation’s capital, Lilongwe, at 9.17 a.m. and was expected to land 45 minutes later at Mzuzu International Airport, approximately 230 miles to the north. However, air traffic control instructed the plane to turn around due to bad weather and poor visibility, Chakwera stated in an address broadcast live on state TV channel MBC. Shortly after, the aircraft vanished from radar, he added.

“I recognize this is a distressing situation. I understand we are all apprehensive and concerned. I share those sentiments,” Chakwera expressed. “But I want to assure you that I am dedicating all available resources to locate that plane. And I am holding onto every ounce of hope that we will discover survivors.”

Mzuzu is Malawi’s third-largest city and the capital of the northern region. It is situated in a hilly, forested area dominated by the Viphya mountain range, which features extensive pine plantations.

The president pledged that search operations would continue throughout the night.

“I have issued strict directives that the operation must continue until the plane is found,” Chakwera emphasized.

Chakwera revealed that the U.S., the U.K., and Norway have offered assistance in the search effort.

Chilima has served as vice president since 2020.

He was a candidate in the 2019 Malawian presidential election and finished third. That vote was won by incumbent Peter Mutharika but was annulled by Malawi’s Constitutional Court due to irregularities. Chakwera finished second in that election.

Chilima subsequently joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate in an historic election rerun in 2020, when Chakwera was elected president. This marked the first time in Africa that an election outcome overturned by a court resulted in a defeat for the incumbent president.

The vice president had been facing allegations that he received money in exchange for influencing the awarding of government contracts, but prosecutors dropped the charges last month. This led to criticism that Chakwera’s administration was not taking a sufficiently firm stance against corruption.

Chilima was arrested in late 2022 and made several court appearances, but the trial has yet to commence. He has denied the allegations.