News World Africa Madagascar minister ‘swims for 12 hours’ after helicopter crash at sea
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Madagascar minister ‘swims for 12 hours’ after helicopter crash at sea

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A Madagascan government minister says he swam for 12 hours to safety after his helicopter crashed at sea.

Police Minister Serge Gelle was on a scouting mission with three other officials following a fatal shipwreck in the Indian Ocean when the aircraft reportedly crashed.

The team was flying to inspect the wreckage north-east of the country, where 64 people lost their lives.

General Gelle, 57, was discovered in the waters of seaside town Mahambo by a fisherman, who brought him to shore on Tuesday (local time).

Another passenger, Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Laitsara, was also found alive, separately on the same beach. The helicopter pilot and another passenger are still missing.

“My turn to die has not yet come, thank God. I’m well. I’m just cold,” Mr Gelle in a video posted on Twitter by Madagascar’s defence ministry, as the general appears to be recovering on a lounge chair, still in uniform.

“But I’m sad because I don’t know if my friends are alive,” Al Jazeera translated the secretary of state for the gendarmerie as saying.

Madagascar minister
Mr Gelle was one of two survivors to have swum some 12 hours to shore. Photo: Getty

In a further interview on Tuesday, Mr Gelle said the team’s helicopter crashed after it caught strong winds, and that he had no injuries, adding he swam from 7.30pm to 7.30am.

The official cause of the crash “remains undetermined”.

The helicopter was one of two flying as part of a government delegation to view the boat, the Francia, which sank on Monday morning 20 kilometres from the town of Soanierana Ivongo.

“I have been swimming from yesterday at 7.30pm to today [at] 7.30am. It wasn’t my time to die, thanks (sic) God,” Mr Gelle said, according to Sky News.

Mr Gelle added he used one of the helicopter’s seats as a flotation device to survive.

“Not having a life jacket, I unfastened the seat and used it as a buoy. I stayed calm and took off anything heavy I was carrying like my boots and belt. I did everything to stay alive,” he said.

The cargo ship was illegally transporting 138 people, according to a statement by the Maritime and River Port Agency.

At least 45 survivors have been rescued while the search efforts continue with at least 20 others still missing.