Minister swims 12 hours after helicopter crash

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A minister and one other person in Madagascar swam to safety on Tuesday after their helicopter crashed off the island’s northeastern coast, authorities said.

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A search was still ongoing for two other passengers after the crash Monday, whose cause was not immediately clear, police and port authorities said.

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Serge Gelle, the country’s secretary of state for police, and a fellow policeman reached land in the seaside town of Mahambo separately on Tuesday morning, apparently after ejecting themselves from the aircraft, port authority chief Jean-Edmond Randrianantenaina said.

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In a video shared on social media, 57-year-old Gelle appears lying exhausted on a deck chair, still in his camouflage uniform.

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“My time to die hasn’t come yet,” says the general, adding he is cold but not injured.

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The helicopter was flying him and the others to inspect the site of a shipwreck off the northeastern coast on Monday morning.

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At least 39 people died in that disaster, police chief Zafisambatra Ravoavy said Tuesday, in an increase from a previous toll after rescue workers retrieved 18 more bodies.

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Ravoavy earlier told AFP that Gelle had used one of the helicopter’s seats as a flotation device, swimming for 12 hours.

“He has always had great stamina in sport, and he’s kept up this rhythm as minister, just like a thirty-year-old,” he said.

Gella became minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle in August after serving in the police for three decades.

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