(Lilongwe) Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima was killed in a plane crash, the president of the southern African country announced on Tuesday shortly after the discovery of the wreckage of the plane missing since the day before.  

“Search and rescue teams located the plane, completely destroyed and without any survivors, all passengers on board having been killed instantly,” announced President Lazarus Chakwera in a televised address, the day after the disappearance of the device near Mzuzu, in the northeast.

“There are no words to express how upsetting this is,” he added, speaking of a “terrible tragedy”.

The military plane, with ten people on board, disappeared from radar on Monday after failing to land due to poor visibility. Photos showing debris bearing the registration number of the aircraft, a twin-engine Dornier 228-202K, were sent to AFP.

First elected vice president in 2014 alongside former President Peter Mutharika, Saulo Chilima, 51, a charismatic political figure with a tough speech, was very popular in Malawi, particularly among young people.  

While on his way to a funeral, his plane, which left the capital Lilongwe on Monday morning after 9 a.m. (3 a.m. Eastern Time), was prevented from landing in the town of Mzuzu due to bad weather and ordered to turn around, before disappearing from the radar, according to the Malawian presidency.

Mr. Chilima had boarded the plane with nine others to travel to Mzuzu, 370 km to the northeast, to attend the funeral of a former government official.  Former first lady of Malawi, Shanil Dzimbiri (Muluzi), was among the passengers.

Mr. Chilima was suspended from office in 2022, during his second term, as part of an investigation into a vast public procurement scandal involving an Anglo-Malawite businessman. He was arrested and prosecuted for corruption. The charges against him had just been lifted in May by the courts, which allowed him to resume his official duties.

“Upon arrival at Mzuzu, the pilot was unable to land due to poor visibility due to bad weather, and the aviation authorities advised the plane to return to Lilongwe, but the authorities soon lost the contact with the device”, President Chakwera reported Monday evening, in a first televised message to the nation.

The head of state rejected local media claims that search operations had been halted after dark. When he was supposed to go on a working visit to the Bahamas, he canceled his departure.

Tuesday morning, intense searches continued despite visibility hampered by fog.  

The rescuers concentrated their searches in an area close to the last relay antenna where the vice-president’s telephone had been blocked for the last time, a presidential spokesperson said during a press briefing.

Several countries, including neighbors of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in southern Africa on the planet, have provided aid, including drones and helicopters, said General Paul Valentino Phiri, commanding general.

The US Embassy in Lilongwe has also offered assistance, including the possibility of using a C-12 military aircraft.

The search began on Monday evening, with soldiers searching on foot and by the light of flashlights the Chikangawa forest reserve, where according to unconfirmed testimonies cited in the local press, some said they had seen a plane crash. .