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A search operation is underway in Malawi after a plane carrying the country’s vice president and nine other people on board disappeared on Monday morning due to stormy weather.

Soldiers have begun combing a mountainous region in the north of the East African country, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera said in a televised address on Monday, after a Malawi Defence Force plane carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine other people disappeared on a flight from the country’s capital Lilongwe to the North African city of Mzuzu.

The flight departed Kamuzu International Airport at about 9:17am and was en route to Mzuzu International Airport when aviation authorities asked the aircraft to turn around due to poor visibility. Authorities soon lost contact with the aircraft, which “could not land due to poor visibility caused by bad weather,” Chakwera said in his address.

The Vice President was on his way to the funeral of former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Raphael Kasambara, who died on June 7.

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“I know this is a heartbreaking situation. I know we are all scared and worried. I am worried too,” Chakwera added. “But I want to assure you that I am sparing no available resources to find this aircraft and I am holding onto every fiber of hope that we will find survivors.”

The president dismissed media reports that Malawi’s armed forces had already suspended their search operations, saying authorities had identified a 10-kilometer radius around the area using signals from telecommunications towers. where the plane is probably located.

Chilima, 51, took office as Vice President in May 2014 after his career at multinational companies such as Coca-Cola and telecommunications company Airtel eased him into politics. He joined Chakwera’s campaign in a 2020 re-election, which led to his re-election as Vice President.

He was arrested in November 2022 on corruption charges after being accused of accepting money and gifts in connection with government-awarded contracts involving two private companies. He denied these allegations. In the run-up to the arrests, Chakwera Chilima removed his position as vice president in light of the allegations.

Malawi – a landlocked country bordering Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique – has a population of about 20 million people and has had diplomatic and military relations with the United States for years.

The United States, Britain, Norway and Israel have offered their assistance regarding the missing plane, including “specialized technologies” to aid the search, Chakwera said on Monday.

The US Embassy in Lilongwe expressed “deep concern” at the news of the plane’s disappearance and offered Malawi assistance in the search, including the use of a Department of Defense C-13 aircraft.

“I ask you to pray for those on board and their families,” Chakwera said. “But whatever happens, I assure you that God is with us and will get us through this dark time.”

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