After their chopper crashed in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar‘s police minister and an air force technician successfully swam 12 hours to rescue.
According to officials, a fisherman in a canoe spotted General Serge Gelle, the gendarmerie secretary of state, in the water and carried him to land.
Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Laitsara, another passenger, also swam to Mahambo Beach.
“My turn to die has not yet come, thank God. I’m well. I’m just cold,” said Gelle in a video posted to Twitter by Madagascar’s defence ministry.
“But I’m sad because I don’t know if my friends are alive.”
Gelle sat on a beach chair, still dressed in his military uniform, his hands pallid and wrinkled from the water and cold.
“There were four of us in the aircraft. I was seated behind the pilot,” he said of the crash on Monday evening.
“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. Gelle said he expected to be back at work in 24 hours and said he lost his mobile phone in the crash.
Many in Madagascar applauded Gelle’s feat, calling him a “hero”, “extraordinary athlete” and “an example to follow” on social media.
The cause of the helicopter crash is yet unknown, according to investigators. Wind gusts, according to Gelle, destabilized the plane. The chopper pilot and another passenger are unaccounted for.
The helicopter was one of two that flew a government team to the spot where Francia, a boat, sank, killing at least 64 persons on board.
“Twenty-five bodies were found this morning near Sainte-Marie islands, probably due to sea currents, which brings the death total to 64,” gendarmerie general Zafisambatra Ravoavy told the AFP news agency.
There were five children among the fatalities.
According to a statement released on Wednesday by the Maritime and River Port Agency, the tiny cargo ship drowned on Monday while illegally transporting 138 passengers.
The search for more than 20 persons who are still missing is ongoing, according to the agency.
On Monday morning, the Francia sunk around 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Soanierana Ivongo.
“A flood in the engine room caused the massacre. Obviously, the boat had exceeded its loading capacity,” said Maurice Tianjara, deputy director-general of the maritime agency.