A British student is believed to have forced open the door of a light aircraft she was travelling in during a field trip to Madagascar, falling to her death on more than a kilometre below.
Alana Cutland, 19, who was a student at Cambridge University, died last month as the aircraft was flying over the island off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.
Police on the African island have said she fell from the plane after opening one of its doors in mid-air. Ms Cutland was reported to be travelling along with a family friend Ruth Johnson on a short flight to Madagascar's Ivato Antananarivo International Airport when the incident took place.
British newspapers reported that Ms Cutland’s parents had asked Ms Johnson to accompany their daughter on a return flight back home in the run-up to the incident. “Ruth Johnson struggled for several minutes to try and stop her,” Spinola Nomenjanahary, the regional chief of police, was quoted as saying. “The pilot also tried to pull her back, but they grew exhausted and Alana managed to fight clear of them and fall out of the door.”
Investigators told of a struggle on board the aircraft, shortly after takeoff, before what they described as an “intentional fall”.
The cause of her death has not yet been confirmed by the authorities, but one line of enquiry being pursued by investigators is the possibility that she had a severe reaction to anti-malaria drugs.
Investigators have been trying to find her body in the remote Analalava region but fear they may fail.
Ground teams, supported by a police helicopter, have been conducting the search.
From Milton Keynes, Ms Cutland, was studying natural sciences at the prestigious British university, and had come to the island on a research trip.
The British Foreign Office said Alana's family described her as "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,” they said.
“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.
They said their daughter "was particularly excited" to start the internship in Madagascar, complementing her studies in natural sciences.
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our wonderful, beautiful daughter, who lit up every room she walked in to and made people smile just by being there,” a family statement said.