A minister in Madagascar's government has beaten the odds to survive a helicopter crash and a marathon swim. Serge Gelle, the country's secretary of state for police, swam to the mainland on Tuesday after the helicopter he was a passenger in crashed into the Indian Ocean off the island's north-east coast. Mr Gelle was one of two passengers known to have survived the crash. They both swam for 12 hours to reach the shore. Gelle told reporters that he used one of the helicopter's seats as a flotation device. News agencies are reporting that at least 39 people perished in the disaster. A police spokesperson said rescue workers had retrieved 18 bodies. He lamented that the death toll could increase over the next few days.
Mr Gelle, 57, was in high spirits after his rescue, despite looking totally exhausted. He managed to muster up the energy to recount his ordeal to reporters. He spoke to journalists while slumped in a deck chair and still wearing his camouflage uniform. He said he ejected himself from the aircraft when he knew it was in trouble. He became police chief earlier this year after serving in the police force for three decades. His colleague offered a reason as to why he survived the crash. He said: "Gelle 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 Gelle said: "My time to die hasn't come yet." The cause of the crash is currently under investigation.