A Madagascan minister was one of two survivors to have swum some 12 hours to shore Tuesday after their helicopter crashed off the island’s northeastern coast, authorities said.
A search was still ongoing for two other passengers after the crash on Monday, the cause not immediately clear, said police and port authorities.
Serge Gelle, the country’s secretary of state for police, and a fellow policeman reached land in the seaside town of Mahambo separately on Tuesday morning, apparently after ejecting themselves from the aircraft, said port authority chief Jean-Edmond Randrianantenaina.
In a video shared on social media, 57-year-old Gelle appears lying exhausted on a deck chair, still in his camouflage uniform. “My time to die hasn’t come yet,” says the general, adding he is cold but not injured.
♦️Le GDI Serge GELLE, un des passagers de l'hélicoptère accidenté hier a été retrouvé sain et sauf ce matin du côté de Mahambo.
☑️ Les sapeurs sauveteurs de la #4°UPC ont également retrouvé le carcasse de l'hélicoptère au fond de la mer. pic.twitter.com/sP2abwTMwB
— Ministère de la Défense Nationale Madagascar (@MDN_Madagascar) December 21, 2021
Gelle became minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle in August after serving in the police for three decades.
The helicopter was flying him and the others to inspect the site of a shipwreck off the northeastern coast on Monday morning. At least 21 people died and around 60 were missing in that disaster, according to the latest official toll on Tuesday.
Zafisambatra Ravoavy, another police general, said Gelle had used one of the helicopter’s seats as a flotation device.
“He has always had great stamina in sport, and he’s kept up this rhythm as minister, just like a thirty-year-old,” he said. “He has nerves of steel.”