Madagascar Police Minister Gen. Serge Gellé told reporters on Tuesday he swam for 12 consecutive hours in the Indian Ocean from Monday night through Tuesday morning until he reached a shore near Madagascar’s Mahambo town after he survived a helicopter crash that left him stranded in the sea, Sky News reported Thursday.
“I am alive, I arrived safely in Mahambo and I am grateful to all fishers and villagers of Mahambo, also to the [local] hotel manager, Mr. Jason,” Gellé said in a video recorded by an unidentified Mahambo local on the morning of December 21.
C’est avec une profonde tristesse que j’ai appris le naufrage d’un navire au large d’Antsiraka et son terrible bilan. Mes pensées vont aux victimes et à leurs proches endeuillés.
Je prie solennellement pour le repos de leurs âmes. pic.twitter.com/nZzJsaYMtL
— Andry Rajoelina (@SE_Rajoelina) December 21, 2021
“I have been swimming from yesterday at 7:30 pm to today 7:30 a.m. It wasn’t my time to die, thanks God [sic],” he added.
♦️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
Gellé, 57, was traveling in a Madagascar military helicopter on the evening of December 20 when it “came down after it caught a gust of wind,” he said in the video, adding that he sustained no major injuries in the accident but was “feeling cold.”
“I would just like you to broadcast this video for my family to see, my colleagues to see, the government members to see. [I am] alive and well,” Gellé, whose official title is Madagascar Secretary of State for the Gendarmerie, said.
Gellé’s ill-fated helicopter was attempting to conduct a search and rescue mission for survivors of a recently sunken cargo ship on December 21 before it encountered its own misfortune. The police minister was joined on the helicopter by Madagascar Chief Warrant Officer Andrianarison Laitsara Jimmy, who also survived the crash and arrived on Mahambo’s shore separately on Tuesday morning. Two other people aboard the aircraft when it went down — its pilot, Col. Hery Rakotomiliarison, and another Madagascar security officer named Olivier Andrianambinina — did not survive the accident.
The cause of the helicopter crash remains unknown, Madagascar police and port authorities told reporters on December 22. Both Gellé and Jimmy ejected themselves from the doomed aircraft as it went down on Monday evening, according to Madagascar port authority chief Jean-Edmond Randrianantenaina.
“Mr. Gellé had used one of the helicopter’s seats as a flotation device,” Madagascar Gendarmerie Gen. Zafisambatra Ravoavy told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday.
“He has always had great stamina in sport and he’s kept up this rhythm as minister, just like a thirty-year-old,” Ravoavy remarked. “He has nerves of steel.”
Gellé’s helicopter crashed off Madagascar’s northeastern coast on Monday as it initiated a search mission for shipwreck survivors just south of the coastal city of Antanambe, which lies roughly 90 miles north of Mahambo. Madagascar government officials have said the ship in question was carrying 130 passengers illegally before it sank in the Indian Ocean on the morning of December 20 after a hole in its wooden hull began to take in water.
“It [the ship] was registered as a cargo ship so was not authorized to carry passengers and Antanambe is not an official port,” Jean Edmond Randrianantenaina, director-general of Madagascar’s Maritime and River Port Agency, told reporters on December 23.
“According to the information we were able to gather, water entered the engine room. The water started to rise and it swallowed up all the engines,” he revealed. “Then the ship began to sink.”
At least 64 people died in the shipwreck. Madagascar authorities have found 50 survivors of the accident so far, while 24 passengers remained missing at press time on Thursday.