Pilot saw Alana hanging out of plane
Warning: Distressing content
The pilot who tried to stop a Cambridge university student from falling out of his plane told how he "had to let her go".
Mahefa Tahina Rantoanina, 33, and a passenger clung to Alana Cutland, 19, who forced opened the plane door 1000 metres over Madagascar.
It emerged Ms Cutland may have had a mental health episode due to a reaction to anti-malaria tablets. Her death occurred during a flight back from a remote lodge where she was studying a rare species of crabs.
The devastated pilot who tried to stop the British student from falling out of the light aircraft has told how she suddenly opened the door.
He and the only other passenger, Alana's friend Ruth Johnson, 51, battled for five minutes to try and prevent her fall before she slipped from their grasp.
Close to tears, Mahefa described how, eerily, the teenager stayed "completely silent" throughout the struggle on his Cessna 182.
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"I had just taken off and I was still climbing when all of a sudden there was a rush of wind and Ruth started screaming.
"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."
The tiny propeller plane was rocking through the air as Ms Johnson - the only other passenger - and pilot Mahefa grappled onto Ms Cutland's leg in a bid to stop her fall.
"I was trying to pull it shut while Ruth was holding on to Alana's leg," he said.
"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.
"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."
Mahefa, who has been a pilot with Madagascar Trans Air for 13 years, said Alana "looked a little sick" as she and Ruth boarded his plane.
"She also said she had a headache but I didn't make anything out if it at the time," he said.
"We were trying to hold her for five minutes but 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."
There are fears Ms Cutland's body never be found after landing in a remote animal infested savanna.
Police and locals have been looking for her body in the remote Analalava region but fear they will never find her due to the remote location.
Local police chief Sinola Nomenjahary said the student fell into a zone full of "carnivorous fossa felines".
The fossa is the largest carnivorous mammal on the island and can reach up to 1.8 metres in length.
Investigators said the student suffered five "paranoia attacks" while on the "failed" research trip that she funded herself.
FELL TO HER DEATH
Images sent to The Sun show - in a re-creation - how the passenger desperately clung to Ms Cutland's leg before she let go through exhaustion around 15 minutes after takeoff on July 25.
Mr Nomenjahary said: "The Cessna C168 aircraft was taking off from Anjajavy with three people aboard, including Ms Johnson, Alana and the pilot.
"After 10 minutes of flight, Alana undid her seatbelt and unlocked the right door of the plane and tried to get out.
"Ms Johnson fought for five minutes trying to hold her, but when she was exhausted and out of breath she let go.
"Alana then intentionally fell from an aircraft at 1130m above sea level.
"She dropped into a zone which is full of carnivorous fossa felines."
Although it is unclear at this stage, it is likely the aircraft attempted to turn around when Ms Cutland first attempted to jump.
However, it is believed the plane could not land straight away as it had to burn off fuel before attempting to touch down so soon after takeoff.
Investigators are frantically mapping the area to narrow down where her body may be.
BODY MAY NEVER BE FOUND
Ms Cutland had been due to stay on the research trip for six weeks but cut it short after eight days after speaking to her parents Alison and Neil Cutland, both 63.
Yesterday her parents paid tribute to their daughter.
In a statement released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, they said: "Our daughter Alana was a bright, independent young woman, who was loved and admired by all those that knew her.
"She was always so kind and supportive to her family and friends, which resulted in her having a very special connection with a wide network of people from all walks of her life, who we know will miss her dearly.
"Alana grasped every opportunity that was offered to her with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, always seeking to extend her knowledge and experience in the best ways possible.
"She was particularly excited to be embarking on the next stage of her education, on an internship in Madagascar complementing her studies in natural sciences.
"Alana was also a talented dancer and embraced the more creative side of her talents with joy and commitment.
"Her thirst for discovering more of the world always ensured she made the most of every second of her action-packed young life.
"We are heartbroken at the loss of our wonderful, beautiful daughter who lit up every room she walked into and made people smile just by being there."
Ms Cutland had been working on an animal biology project studying crabs on the shoreline and was hosted by the Anjajavy Lodge.
SUFFERED 'PARANOIA ATTACKS'
She was due to be flying home when she fell from the small plane.
Mr Nomenjahary said the conclusion of their investigation was that it was an "intentional fall" and they were working with British authorities who were speaking to Ms Cutland's family.
As well as the reconstruction, local police have interviewed management at the hotel, Ms Johnson and the pilot and searched Alana's luggage.
They have also read through her documents and messages.
He added: "The victim is a student who has failed on research work and was asking for a lot of moral support.
"She had personally financed her research and had suffered a paranoia attack five times."
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission