Serge Gelle, Madagascar’s secretary of state for police, swam some 12 hours to shore Tuesday after a helicopter he was in with others crashed off the island’s northeastern coast, AFP reported. Gelle was one of two survivors to have swum to shore. A fellow policeman reached land in the seaside town of Mahambo separately on Tuesday morning.
Authorities said they are still searching for two other passengers after the crash Monday. The cause of the crash is still not clear, the police said. The helicopter was flying Gelle and the others to inspect the site of a shipwreck off the northeastern coast on Monday morning.
A rescue team “found the helicopter wreck on the seabed,” Madagascar’s Ministry of National Defense tweeted. At least 39 people died in Monday’s shipwreck disaster, police chief Zafisambatra Ravoavy said.
Gelle and his fellow policeman survived the helicopter crash after they had ejected themselves from the aircraft, port authority chief Jean-Edmond Randrianantenaina said. Gelle had used one of the helicopter’s seats as a flotation device, Ravoavy also told AFP.
A video shared on social media shows Gelle in his camouflage uniform, lying exhausted on a deck chair. “My time to die hasn’t come yet,” 57-year-old Gelle said, according to AFP. He added that he is not injured but cold.
Gelle became minister following a cabinet reshuffle in August after serving in the police for three decades, according to AFP.
“He has always had great stamina in sport, and he’s kept up this rhythm as minister, just like a thirty-year-old,” police chief Ravoavy said.
“He has nerves of steel.”