Madagascar: Minister 'swims for 12 hours' after helicopter crashes at sea

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Image source, President Andry Rajoelina/ Twitter
Image caption,
Serge Gelle was one of two men to survive the helicopter crash and swim to safety

A government minister in Madagascar has said he swam for 12 hours to safety after his helicopter crashed at sea during a rescue mission.

"It's not my time to die," exhausted Police Minister Serge Gelle said as he recovered on a stretcher.

A security official travelling with him in the helicopter also survived the crash.

The team had been flying to inspect the site of a shipwreck in the north-east of the country on Monday night.

The number of people confirmed dead in that accident has risen to 85 after 21 more bodies were retrieved on Wednesday, the maritime agency said, the AFP news agency reports.

About 50 people have so far been rescued, with three others still missing, it added.

The vessel was a cargo ship that was not authorised to carry passengers, and was overloaded and water flooded its engine, an agency official was quoted by Reuters news as saying.

On Twitter President Andry Rajoelina mourned those who died and also paid tribute to Mr Gelle and the other officer, who arrived in the seaside town of Mahambo separately.

The helicopter's pilot and another military officer on board are still missing, he said.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Speaking on Tueday, Mr Gelle, 57, said his helicopter came down after it caught a gust of wind, and he swam from "7:30 last night , until 7:30 this morning," to Mahambo.

He said he had no injuries but added that he 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," Mr Gelle told locals at Mahambo.

Police chief Zafisambatra Ravoavy told AFP that Mr 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 30-year-old... he has nerves of steel," Mr Ravoavy said.

Mr Gelle had served in the police for three decades before his appointment as minister in August.

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