YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – In an address to the nation June 11, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera announced the death of the country’s Vice President Saulos Chilima, described as a “devout Catholic” by Church leaders.

Chilima was killed along with nine others in a military plane that crashed at a hill near Lunjika Turn Off in Chikangawa forest plantations in Mzimba.

“Something terrible went wrong with that aircraft on its way back to Lillongwe, sending it crashing down and killing everyone on board, and leaving us all devastated and asking ourselves questions whose answers cannot take away the pain and the helplessness we feel from this loss,” the president told the nation from Kamuzu Palace, the country’s presidential residence.

The military plane on Monday June 10 left the Kamuzu International Airport with the Vice President and nine others, including the crew. The aircraft was to land at the Mzuzu International Airport, approximately 230 miles to the north of the country. Chilima was going “to attend the funeral of Former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, late Honourable Ralph Kasambara,” in the words of the president.

However, upon arrival in Mzuzu, the pilot was unable to land the plane due to poor visibility caused by bad weather, and aviation authorities advised the aircraft to return to Lilongwe. It was on the return trip that the aircraft crashed, killing all on board.

“The news of the loss of the vice president and others on board has left us heart broken,” said Father David Niwagaba, the Managing Director of Catholic Luntha TV.

“There are tears everywhere in Malawi and in particular the Catholic Church. Malawi has lost a great man who gave hope to many and inspired many for his faith as a Catholic.” he told Crux.

The vice president was a member of the St. Patrick’s Parish in Lilongwe.

Niwagaba told Crux that “the mood in Malawi is a somber one,” and that the nation was in shock.

He said when news of the disappearance of the plane broke out, many Catholics went into prayer looking for God’s intervention, and hoping the Vice President and others with him would come back alive.

Father Petros Mwale, the parish priest at St. Martin De Porres Parish in the Mzuzu Diocese spoke about the disaster on ‘X’: “We mourn the loss of the Vice President of Malawi and the nine others who perished in a plane crash. Your prayers are requested for our nation during this difficult time. The Vice President was a devout Catholic and a good man.”

Father Edmond Nyoka also wrote on ‘X’, describing a photo of a pilgrimage in which the Vice President took part: “The man holding the cross, also kneeling (in black) is the Vice president of Malawi who has died in a plane crash. He loved the Church. Very active and humble.”

Chakwera said that like all Malawians, he felt pain and helplessness at the passing of the Vice President, but urged his compatriots to “comfort each other now and in the weeks to come as we mourn together.”

“Chilima was a good man, a devoted father and husband, a patriotic citizen who served his country with distinction, and a formidable vice President,” the president said, as he paid tribute to his late deputy.

“I consider it one of the greatest honors of my life to have had him as my deputy and counselor for the past four years. His passing is a terrible loss to his wife, his family, his friends, his colleagues in the cabinet and to all of us as a nation that found his leadership and courage a source of inspiration,” Chakwera told the nation.

“I know that the others who were on that flight were men and women of honor who served their country with distinction, and whose families are left with broken hearts today. I am profoundly sorry to all of you for this terrible loss, and I pray to God to comfort us all and to bind up our wounds as we mourn together as one nation,” the president said.

Chilima was born in February 1973.He hails from the Ngoni tribe, in Ntcheu District in Central Malawi. He is married to Mary and together they have two children.

Chilima ran for president in 2019, but failed to get past Mutharika, the incumbent. He came third, behind both Mutharika and Chakwera, but the Constitutional Court annulled the election because of irregularities.

Chilima then joined Chakwera’s campaign as his running mate in the rerun election in 2020. Their ticket won the presidency and both men went into a political arrangement in which Chakwera would rule only for one term and support his Vice President in the 2025 presidential election.

Chilima has been facing corruption charges, with prosecutors accusing the Vice President of receiving money in exchange for influencing the award of government contracts. The Vice President has always denied the allegations.