A pilot who battled to save a Cambridge University student who plunged to her death from 3,500 feet has said she was eerily silent as she pushed the door of the aircraft open.
Alana Cutland opened a plane door over Madagascar while she flew in the aircraft as it passed over the savannah.
It emerged this week that the 19-year-old student may have had a mental health episode due to the medication she had been taking for malaria.
Now the pilot of the plane, Mahefa Tahina Rantoanina, 33, has spoken of the distressing moment he had to let her go.
Alana Cutland (pictured centre, on holiday with her family) opened a plane door while flying over Madagascar
Mahefa Tahina Rantoanina said he was trying to pull the door shut as well as flying the plane during the incident
He and the only other passenger, Alana’s friend Ruth Johnson, 51, struggled to prevent her falling before losing their grip.
Mr Tahina Rantoanina said he had just taken off and was still climbing when there was a rush of wind and Ruth began screaming.
Speaking to The Sun he said: ‘I turned round and saw Alana hanging out of my plane. I immediately levelled the aircraft to try and keep us on course, then I reached over and held the door.
‘I was trying to pull it shut while Ruth was holding on to Alana’s leg. The plane stayed level, there was no rocking but it was very noisy from the wind.
Alana was thought to be travelling back from a research trip to the remote area of Anjajavy – police are probing if she fell ill after taking anti-malaria tablets
Authorities shared this photo, a recreation of Ruth Johnson and the pilot’s attempts to save Alana and stop her from jumping out. She fell from the Cessna-style light aircraft while it was above the east African country, about ten minutes after take-off
‘I was trying to fly and stop her from falling at the same time. I was absolutely terrified, we all were. Ruth and I were shouting at her to come back inside the plane.
‘But for the whole time Alana did not say a word she just struggled to get away from us. I have no idea why she opened the door but she did. She opened the door and she jumped. The door did not open itself.’
Did Alana Cutland suffer a severe reaction to anti-malaria drugs?
In very rare cases some anti-malaria drugs, such as Larium, can cause paranoia, depression, hallucinations and even suicidal thoughts.
Police are now probing whether tragic student Alana Cutland had a severe reaction to the medicine.
Mefloquine, also known as Lariam, is not recommended for people who suffer from depression or other mental health problems.
It’s side-effects can include dizziness, headache, sleep disturbances (insomnia and vivid dreams), as well as psychiatric reactions.
These include anxiety, depression, panic attacks and hallucinations.
Medical advice says that ‘it’s very important’ to tell your doctor about any previous mental health problems, including mild depression before taking Lariam.
Source: The NHS
Mr Tahina Rantoanina has been a pilot with Madagascar Trans Air for 13 years and highlighted that Alana had looked ‘a little sick’ when she climbed on-board.
‘She also said she had a headache but I didn’t make anything out if it at the time.’
Reflecting on the moment he and Ruth realised they could hold on no longer, he said ‘in the end, there was nothing we could do’.
‘She struggled free and she fell out of the plane over the savannah. Ruth was hysterical, she was screaming and after we closed the door I turned the plane round and landed at the airport.
‘The whole thing lasted maybe 45 minutes from take-off to landing. ‘I can only think she (Alana) had some sort of crisis, maybe it was to do with the fact she was ill.
‘ Ruth was in a very bad way, she had just seen her friend fall from the plane. I think Ruth had spoken with Alana’s parents before the flight.
‘She had booked and paid for the flight from Anjajavy to Antananarivo. I think the plan was to catch another flight to England.’
When he landed the plane he said Ruth was too upset to speak and added that it had been the staff at the hotel who had to inform Alana’s parents.
‘I just can’t explain why Alana would do that. I have never experienced anything like that as a pilot.
‘I gave a statement to the police and so did Ruth, I haven’t seen her since. I think she is staying with the British Embassy people.”
Alana had been eight days into a six-week stay when her parents Alison and Neil arranged her flights home.
Her family said in a statement: ‘Our daughter Alana was a bright, independent young woman, who was loved and admired by all those that knew her’
Her uncle Lester Riley has since said that he believes his niece had been hallucinating on prescription drugs when she died.
He said: ‘There was nothing wrong with her before she went out. She was very stable. ‘She had taken ill after being there for a few days and when she spoke to her mother on the phone two days before the accident she was mumbling and sounded pretty incoherent.
‘We think she had suffered a severe reaction to some drugs. What happened, the family believe, was a tragic accident not a suicide and we are utterly heartbroken.
‘Alana had everything to live for, nothing to die for, and we don’t think for a moment she deliberately took her own life.
‘She was hallucinating, she was unwell, something had made her ill, it must have been a reaction to medication.’
He added that his niece had never suffered from a mental illness and said she had been studying Biological Natural Sciences.
She had been staying sat the Anjajavy Lodge on the country’s north west coast.
It was also found that investigators believe that Alana suffered five ‘paranoia attacks’ while on the trip that she had funded.
In a statement, her parents from Milton Keynes, Bucks, said: ‘Our daughter Alana was a bright, independent young woman, who was loved and admired by all those that knew her.’
Rescue teams have not yet located her body.
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