Malawi military aircraft carrying Vice President was “too old”

Chakwera addresses nation amid fears of fatal crash


Staff Reporter

Harare—The search and rescue teams  combing for a military plane that vanished on Monday with Malawian vice president, Saulos Chilima, and nine other occupants  on board  were called off on the night of the first day because of visibility problems, NewsHub has learnt.

The 19-seater plane carrying  Chilima (51) and the other passengers to a funeral in the city of Mzuzu in northern Malawi disappeared without a trace on Monday morning, the government said in a statement.

With the search set to resume at daybreak on Tuesday, indications are that the plane, a Dornier 228, was about 30 years old and could have been experiencing mechanical problems, according to a Malawian investigative journalist based in Mzuzu, Collins Mtika.

Dornier 228

Mtika told this publication that the flight could have gone down in the thick Chikangawa forest near Mzuzu on the way from Lilongwe.

“It has been raining intermittently since Saturday, with occasional gusty winds,” said Mtika, implying that the weather could have played a part in the yet to be verified fate of the plane.

In a national address, President Chakwera, who convened an emergency cabinet meeting in the evening of Monday, indicated that the plane reached the Mzuzu airfield but was advised to return to Lilongwe because of “poor visibility occasioned by bad weather” but “aviation authorities soon lost contact with the aircraft”.

He said aviation towers last spotted the plane within a 0km radius of Raiply and dismissed reports that the army had called off the search and rescue operation .

“MDF (Malawi Defence Forces) soldiers are still on the ground carrying out the search and I have given strict orders that the operation should continue until the plane is found,” said Chakwera.

Rescue and aviation investigations teams were dispatched to the area and were still combing the thickets late into the evening on Monday but darkness prevented further searches.

A statement by Colleen Zamba, the Malawian secretary to the president and cabinet, shows that the aircraft left Lilongwe shortly after 9am and was scheduled to land at the Mzuzu International Airport around 10am.

“All efforts by aviation authorities to make contact with the aircraft since it went off the radar have failed so far,” reads the statement.

“The commander of the Malawi Defence Forces, General Valerio Phiri, has since informed His Excellency, Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, of the incident and the president has since cancelled his scheduled departure for the Bahamas and ordered all regional and national agencies to conduct an immediate search and rescue operation to locate the whereabouts of the aircraft (sic).”

The vice president was travelling to attend the burial of a former cabinet minister, Ralph Kasambara.

Malawi is expected to engage its counterparts in Southern Africa to help with the search for the aircraft and investigations into its suspected crash.

In mid-2022, President Chakwera temporarily suspended Chilima when the latter faced allegations of receiving bribes from British-American businessman, Zuneth Abdul Rashid Sattar, in exchange for government contracts.

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