Rescuers search Malawi's dense forest for vice president's missing plane

Rescuers searched the dense forests of northern Malawi for a second day on Tuesday. The plane carrying the country's vice presidentSaulos Chilima, missing due to bad weather.

The Malawian military plane carrying Mr Chilima and nine others took off from the capital, Lilongwe, at 9:17am on Monday. The flight was bound for Mzuzu and took less than an hour, according to the government.

President Lazarus Chakwera said in a televised address late Monday that the plane was unable to land due to poor visibility caused by bad weather. The pilot was given instructions to turn around, but minutes later the plane disappeared from radar.

Malawian authorities launched a massive rescue operation overnight in the Chikangawa forest, an uninhabited protected area covering about 443 square miles.

Nearly 200 soldiers were involved in the search and rescue effort, but thick fog hampered the effort, Malawian Defense Force General Paul Phiri said Tuesday morning. Police, park rangers and civil aviation department employees were also involved, he told a news conference.

“Our troops remained on the ground all night long and they kept fighting despite these challenges,” General Phiri said.

Malawian authorities have also sought assistance from other governments. The U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe said it had loaned a C-12 aircraft to assist in the search, while Mr. Chakwera said he had sought technical support from neighboring countries as well as Britain, Norway and Israel. On Tuesday morning, the Malawi Red Cross joined the search.

Mr Chilima, 51, is expected to contest the 2025 presidential election.

He entered Malawi politics a decade ago, giving up his job as head of one of the country's largest telecommunications companies and successfully contested the 2014 presidential election as Peter Mutharika's running mate.

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In 2019, the two fell out, with Chilima accusing Mutharika of corruption and forming his own party, the United Movement for Change.

Chakwera and Chilima were once political rivals but formed an alliance after losing an election tainted by fraud that year. Both candidates successfully challenged the results and won a run-off on the same ballot paper in 2020 after a judicial panel ruled in their favor.

Mr Chilima was arrested by the country’s anti-corruption bureau in late 2022 for allegedly accepting kickbacks from a businessman in exchange for government contracts. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Malawian authorities dropped the case and all charges against Mr Chilima last month, but the scandal still tarnished his image as a politician who swore to weed out corruption.

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