A Cambridge student who jumped 1000 metres to her death from a plane over Madagascar is believed to have made a mumbled final phone call to her mum saying “me, plane, home” just moments before takeoff.
According to The Sun, Alana Cutland, 19, managed to open the door of the light aircraft as the pilot, Mahefa Tahina Rantoanina, 33, and fellow passenger, Ruth Johnson, 51, struggled but failed to keep her inside.
It emerged that Cutland may have suffered hallucinations due to a reaction to anti-malaria tablets.
Anti-malaria drugs such as Lariam, known as mefloquine, have known side-effects such as psychosis, suicidal thoughts, depression and hallucinations.
The pilot told The Sun that he had tried to stop her from jumping out of his plane but that he “had to let her go”.
‘I HAD TO LET GO’
Mahefa Tahina Rantoanina was flying a light aircraft at 3,500ft over Madagascar when 19-year-old Alana Cutland 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 plunge before she slipped from their grasp.
Close to tears, Mahefa, 33, described how, eerily, the teenager stayed “completely silent” throughout the struggle on his Cessna 182.
He told The Sun: “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.
“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.
“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 Cutland “looked a little sick” as she and Johnson boarded his plane.
He added: “She also said she had a headache but I didn’t make anything out if it at the time.”
Reflecting on the nightmare, he continued: “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 takeoff to landing.
According to the Daily Mail, Cutland hung outside the plane for a full two minutes at 130 mph before falling.
PSYCHOTIC EPISODE THEORY
Police in Madagascar are probing the theory Alana had a psychotic episode caused by anti-malaria tablets.
Sources said Cutland, 19, was distressed in the days before her death. A friend said she sounded upset in a final call to her mum, telling her in broken speech moments before takeoff: “Me, plane, home.”
Local police said she had also suffered five “paranoia attacks” while in the country.
A source said: “Alana was taking a type of malaria drug and police are working on a theory that is what was sending her delirious.
“Her last phone call to her mum wasn’t like her at all. It didn’t make sense. She wasn’t in the right frame of mind and it was unlike any normal conversation she would have had.”
They said her relatives were concerned for her, but added: “It’s an absolute heartbreaking tragedy that she never made it back to her family.”
“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 we landed Ruth was too upset to speak and it was the people at the hotel where Alana was staying who had to call the 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.’’
Johnson, a primary school teacher, is still too traumatised to share her experience but her husband did eventually speak exclusively to the Daily Mail about the horrifying flight.
He said his wife had been staying at the remote Anjajavy Le Lodge with Alana and when the teen’s mental health began to deteriorate and her parents requested she come home after just eight days into a six-week trip, the older woman agreed to accompany her home to Britain.
Mr Smith called his wife’s attempts to help Cutland “stunning.”
“Ruth was going out of her way to chaperone the poor girl and tried with all of her strength to save her life.
“Ruth’s bravery was stunning. But at the end of it all, a family has lost a daughter. That’s foremost in all our minds.”
‘SHE WAS VERY STABLE’
Alan’s uncle Lester Riley, 68, claimed his niece was hallucinating on prescription drugs when she plunged.
The retired electrician from Nottingham said: “There was nothing wrong with her before she went out. She was very stable.
He, said: “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.”
“It was totally out of character. She was a really lovely girl with her whole life ahead of her. She must have fallen ill out there.
“We think she had suffered a severe reaction to some drugs.”
Mr Riley added: “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.
“She had great career prospects. The Foreign Office told her parents last Thursday too. The delay is because they can’t find the body and the parents want to. But it’s not looking likely.”
Mr Riley said his niece, who he last saw seven months ago, had never suffered from mental illness.
School friend Charlotte Parmenter added: “She was prom queen for a reason, she was well liked by everyone and I don’t think anyone had a bad word to say about her.
“I know she was always getting involved with the school council and various extra curricular. From my friends I kept after leaving who went to university with her always said she was so hardworking and was still the life of the party and was lovely as ever.”
The teenager was staying at the luxurious Anjajavy Lodge on the country’s north west coast but investigators said the student suffered five “paranoia attacks” while carrying out the project studying crabs on the shoreline.
Nature-lover Cutland was in her second year of studying Biological Natural Sciences.
It is believed that her parents had rented the aircraft to transfer Alana to the island’s international airport and bring her home.
Local police chief Sinola Nomenjahary said the student fell into a zone of woodland and swamps which is full of carnivorous Fossa felines.
She was just eight days into the six-week stay when her concerned parents, Alison and Neil, both 63, are understood to have arranged her flights home.
Rescue teams are still searching for Cutland’s body but fear they may never find her body considering the remote location where her body fell.
The Fossa is the largest carnivorous mammal on the island, and can reach up to six feet in length.
Investigators will be frantically mapping the area to narrow down an area where her body may be.
This story first appeared in The Sun and is republished with permission.