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Madagascan minister “swims for 12 hours” after a helicopter crash at sea during a cargo rescue mission | World news

A Malagasy government minister said he swam for 12 hours after his helicopter crashed at sea during a rescue mission.

Police Minister Serge Gelle was part of a team searching the country’s northeast coast after a freighter illegally carrying 130 passengers sank, killing at least 19 people.

Another 66 people are missing as a result of the incident, officials said.

Mr Gelle was recovered on a stretcher after surviving the crash and swimming in the water for hours.

“This is not my time to die,” he told local media as the remains of the helicopter were later found on the ocean floor.

Two other security officials who were with him in the helicopter also survived.

The ship, the Francia, had left the town of Antanambe in the early hours of Monday before heading south.

It was registered as a cargo ship and therefore was not authorized to carry passengers and Antanambe is not an official port, said Jean Edmond Randrianantenaina, director general of the Maritime and River Ports Agency.

It is believed that a hole in the ship’s hull caused it to sink.

“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,” said Randrianantenaina.

“Then the ship started to sink. We do not know exactly what time the water started to rise, but our interventions began around 9 am,” he added.

Three boats from the French Navy and the Maritime Agency are continuing the search for the missing.

President Andry Rajoelina paid tribute to the deceased and wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts are with the victims and their bereaved loved ones. I solemnly pray for the rest of their souls.

“My thoughts are also with the helicopter pilot, Colonel Hery Rakotomiliarison and Colonel Olivier Andrianambinina sent to the area, victims of a crash, still missing. Courage to their loved ones and their families in this ordeal.

“I salute all the dedication of the Secretary of State for the Gendarmerie, General Serge Gellé and Chief Warrant Officer Andrianarison Laitsara Jimmy, survivors of the crash while their helicopter came to the aid of the castaways.

“The State is fully mobilized to provide all the necessary assistance to the victims of these dramatic events. Search operations continue to save lives.”

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