A 19-year-old student fell to her death from a plane. A fellow passenger and the pilot tried desperately to pull her back in.
Cambridge biology student Alana Cutland from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was on an internship to Madagascar for six weeks. Cutland had to cut her journey short after eight days as she was suffering from severe mental problems. Her family was begging her to come back home.
Ruth Johnson, a 51-year-old school teacher, was willing to escort the young girl back to England. It was Johnson, Cutland’s fellow passenger that would so desperately fight to save her life the next day.
The trio began the 2hr 20min first leg of the journey in a Cessna 182 light aircraft. The flight was from the remote Anjajavy airstrip in northern Madagascar to the capital Antananarivo’s international airport—but it would never get there.
Just before take-off, an airport attendant showed Cutland how to open the flight door in case of an emergency. There were only two passengers on the four-seater Cessna, Alana Cutland, and Ms. Ruth Johnson.
Just five minutes after take-off, the plane had reached a height of approximately 3,700 feet. Suddenly, Cutland unbuckled her seatbelt, then slid the seat in front of her forward and opened the door and tried to jump out of the plane.
A sudden gust of wind (the plane was flying at a speed of approximately 130 mph) filled the cabin causing the light aircraft to sway from side to side.
Johnson immediately grabbed Cutland’s leg, while the pilot, Mahefa Rantoanina, tried to close the door—meanwhile holding the controls with the other hand. But Cutland was already halfway out of the plane.
Rantoanina shared his story with The Sun:
“I turned around and saw Alana hanging out of my plane. I immediately leveled 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.
“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.”
For about two minutes, the two desperately tried to save the life of the young woman. But Johnson, exhausted, couldn’t hold on any longer and lost her grip—and Cutland fell to her death 3,700 feet below.
After the tragic incident, Rontoanina redirected the plane to nearby Mahajanga airstrip and informed the police. Johnson was in shock and couldn’t speak. The hotel staff had to notify the parents.
The next days, rescue teams and locals were combing the area without finding a trace of the body. The endemic wild animals may have eaten the corpse.
Alana Cutland was a second-year Biological Natural Sciences student at Cambridge University. She was on a six weeks internship in the Anjajavy area, researching a specific kind of crab.
Her family described her as talented and beautiful. She was adventurous and outgoing. However, lately, she’d been suffering from paranoia and panic attacks.
Her condition worsened so drastically that her family urged her to cut short her stay and return home, after only eight days in Madagascar.
Ms. Johnson was a British private school teacher. She was working on a three-week school project in local villages near the remote Anjajavy Le Lodge area.
The two had been working together on a nature conservation project, according to the Daily Mail. Johnson was due to return home on Thursday, July 25, and agreed to take Alana with her a day earlier.
In a statement, cited by the Daily Mail, Alana’s parents said: “Our daughter Alana was a bright, independent young woman, who was loved and admired by all those that knew her.”