Malawi soldiers search mountain forests after plane carrying vice-president goes missing

Malawi soldiers search mountain forests after plane carrying vice-president goes missing

Soldiers are searching mountainous forests in northern Malawi after an aircraft carrying vice-president Saulos Chilima and nine others went missing on Monday.

The plane carrying Chilima, former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri and eight others left the capital, Lilongwe, at 9.17am and had been expected to land 45 minutes later at Mzuzu international airport, about 370km (230 miles) to the north.

President Lazarus Chakwera said in an address broadcast live on state TV channel MBC on Monday night that air traffic control in Mzuzu had told the pilots not to attempt a landing and to turn around because of bad weather and poor visibility.

Air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft and it disappeared from radar a short time later, he said.

“I know this is a heartbreaking situation. I know we are all frightened and concerned. I too am concerned,” Chakwera said. “But I want to assure you that I am sparing no available resource to find that plane. And I am holding on to every fibre of hope that we will find survivors.”

Chakwera said the US, UK, Norway and Israel had offered assistance in the search operation and had provided “specialised technologies” that the president hoped would help find the plane sooner.

The president said the search would continue through the night and that authorities had used telecommunications towers to track the last known position of the plane to within a 10km (six-mile) radius of one of the plantations that surround Mzuzu, which lies in an area dominated by the Viphya mountain range.

“I have given strict orders that the operation should continue until the plane is found,” Chakwera said.

The incident meant the president cancelled a planned visit to the Bahamas.

Chilima, 51, had been due to attend the funeral of Ralph Kasambara, a former minister of justice and attorney general, in the village of Chijere, east of Mzuzu. Kasambara, 55, was found dead after suffering heart failure last Friday, according to a government Facebook post.

Malawi is experiencing heavy rains in some parts of the country, especially the north.

Chilima has been the southern African country’s vice-president since 2014. He previously led the mobile network Airtel Malawi, as well as working at Unilever, Coca-Cola and Carlsberg, according to his profile on the government’s website.

Chilima is married and has two children. He received a PhD in knowledge management from the University of Bolton, according to the government website.