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Search underway for missing plane carrying Malawi's vice president, former first lady

By Chris Benson
Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera remotely addresses the U.N. General Assembly's 76th session in September 2021 at the United Nations' headquarters in New York City. Chakwera on Monday canceled a Bahamas trip in the wake of a likely aircraft crash carrying Malawi's vice president. File Photo by Eduardo Munoz/UPI
Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera remotely addresses the U.N. General Assembly's 76th session in September 2021 at the United Nations' headquarters in New York City. Chakwera on Monday canceled a Bahamas trip in the wake of a likely aircraft crash carrying Malawi's vice president. File Photo by Eduardo Munoz/UPI | License Photo

June 10 (UPI) -- An aircraft carrying 10 people including the vice president of the African nation of Malawi, and its former first lady, was reported missing after it failed to make a scheduled landing and search-and-rescue efforts are underway, the government confirmed Monday.

"All efforts by aviation authorities to make contact with the aircraft since it went off the radar have failed thus far," according to an official statement by a Malawi government spokesperson before 6 p.m. local time Monday in the capital of Lilongwe.

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In televised remarks to the country Monday evening local time, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera said the MAF-T03 military aircraft carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima included Lukas Kapheni, Chisomo Chimaneni, Gloria Mtukule, Shanil Dzimbiri, Dan Kanyemba and Abdul Lapukeni.

Also aboard were a military colonel and two majors, who were the Malawian Defense Force officers assigned to operate the aircraft.

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The MDF aircraft carrying Chilima, 51, and the nine other individuals -- and which earlier had been reported to possibly be a twin turbo-prop Dornier 228 -- took off from the capital Lilongwe at 9:17 a.m. local time Monday.

Hopewell Chin'ono, an African-sourced journalist, likewise confirmed the ex-wife of former Malawian President Bakili Muluzi, former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri, also was on board.

Chin'ono wrote on social media that the former president told him that the area being searched "is a huge forest in a very cold part of Malawi, which sadly reduces the chances of survival." Chin'ono, a Harvard University Nieman fellow, posted the information on X.

Local eyewitnesses earlier reported seeing a crash in the Chikangawa forest in central Malawi thought to be the aircraft carrying Chilima, according to The Zimbabwe Mail.

The aircraft was reported as missing after it failed to make a scheduled landing at Mzuzu International Airport in northern Malawi, where the flight occupants were to attend the funeral of former Malawi attorney general and minister of justice Ralph Kasambara.

The president said in his televised remarks at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe the aircraft could not land at its destination "due to poor visibility" and "bad weather."

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"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 onto every fiber of hope that we will find survivors."

Chakwera canceled a planned trip to the Bahamas and ordered all regional and national agencies to assist in the search for the aircraft.

He said the flight was advised by aviation officials to turn back to the capital "when authorities soon lost contact with the aircraft," at which point, Chakwera said, he was then alerted of the situation and advised government officials to give an update to him every four hours.

Chakwera added that officials identified a search-and-rescue area in a specific 10-kilometer radius area as a possible crash site. He pushed back against alleged rumors that rescue efforts had been suspended and said the search will continue until the aircraft is found.

This latest incident involving a government leader on a flight comes weeks after Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, 63, died with eight others in a helicopter crash.

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