Alana Cutland was a student at Cambridge University from England who died when she fell from a small plane over the African island of Madagascar. The 19-year-old woman opened the door to the light aircraft herself, authorities say. Her body has not been located and it is not known why she opened the exit to the plane while mid-air.
Cutland was a student at Robinson College and was in Madagascar for an internship, the BBC reports. Police are investigating her death and had been using a helicopter to search for her body, but feared it would never be located. Through the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, her family said they were mourning the loss of a “bright, independent young woman.”
The incident happened July 25 just moments after the plane took off from a remote airstrip in the northern part of Madagascar, according to the BBC.
“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,” her family said in a statement.
Alana Cutland Broke Free From the Grasp of Another Passenger to Jump From the Plane & Her Family Says She May Have Had a ‘Severe Reaction to Anti-Malaria Drugs’
Alana Cutland opened the door of the small plane while 3,500 feet above the island of Madagascar, according to The Sun newspaper. Another passenger in the Cessna light aircraft, identified by The Sun as British tourist Ruth Johnson, grabbed her and battled with Cutland for several minutes.
Johnson was the only other passenger in the propellor plane and she grabbed onto Cutland’s leg. The pilot also tried to pull her back into the plane. But Johnson told The Sun that Cutland was able to get free from her “exhausted” grasp and jumped or fell out of the airplane to her death.
Authorities have been searching the remote Analalava of Madagascar for Cutland’s body.
The pilot told The Sun that Cutland “looked a little sick” when she boarded the plane and said she had a headache. A source told The Sun, ““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.”
The anti-malaria drug Lariam, also known as mefloquine, can cause psychosis, depression and anxiety in rare cases, according to researchers.
Authorities said she suffered from five paranoia attacks while in Madagascar, according to The Sun, and her last call to her family was broken and slurred, as she said, “Me, plane, home,” a friend told the newspaper.
“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,” local police chief Sinola Nomenjahary said in a statement. “Alana then intentionally fell from an aircraft at 1130 meters above sea level. She dropped into a zone which is full of with carnivorous Fossa felines.”
According to the BBC, investigators are looking into a theory that Cutland suffered a “severe reaction to anti-malaria drugs” causing paranoia and leading to her opening the door.
The pilot and other passenger said Cutland remained “completely silent” before falling from the plane, according to The Sun. The pilot of the Cessna 182, Mahefa Tahina Rantoanina, told The Sun, he “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.”
Rantoanina added, “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.”
He told The Sun, “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.”
Cutland Was Studying Natural Sciences at Robinson College & a College Spokesman Says They Are ‘Deeply Shocked’ by Her Death
Cutland was studying natural sciences at Robinson College at the University of Cambridge, according to her family. She was in a remote area of Madagascar on an internship researching a rare species of crabs. She was planning to be there for six weeks, but decided to take the flight out with the British tourist, Johnson, because she had been suffering paranoia and struggling in her research work, The Sun reports.
It is not clear if the suspected bad reaction to the anti-malaria drug caused her to have issues with her research and studies while in Madagascar. She had been in regular contact by email with her parents and they advised her to return home early, according to The Sun.
Dr. David Woodman, of Robinson College, said in a statement the college community was “deeply shocked by the news of Alana’s death” and he offered condolences to her family. He added, “In her two years here, she made a huge contribution to many different aspects of life in the college – she will be sorely missed by us all.”
Cutland’s uncle, Lester Riley, told The Sun that his niece was stable before she went to Madagascar and had not previously suffered from mental illness or psychotic episodes.
“She was very stable. 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,” Riley told the newspaper. ”
She Was Originally From Milton Keynes & Her Family Says She ‘Lit Up Every Room She Walked Into’
Alana Cutland was originally from Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, England, where her parents, Neil Cutland and Alison Cutland live. Her parents issued a statement about her death. They said she had a “thirst for discovering more of the world.”
The family’s statement added, “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.”
Her family said, “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 in to, and made people smile just by being there.”
Cutland Was the Vice President of a Dance Group at Cambridge & They Remembered Her as ‘an Unforgettable Force of Enthusiasm, Kidness & Talent’
Cutland was the vice president of a dance group at Cambridge. The group, CUTAZZ Dance Society, said in a Facebook post, “We are extremely sad to have been given the news that Alana Cutland passed away this week whilst abroad. You may have seen this in the news. Anyone who had the privilege of knowing and dancing with her would agree that she was an unforgettable force of enthusiasm, kindness and talent. A huge sassy smile in any room she entered.”
The group’s post added, “She will be greatly missed as a cutazz member, Vice President and friend to many people connected to the society and competition team. Our thoughts and love are with you all and her family. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the CUTAZZ committee if you are in need of any extra support. Alana, you will be greatly greatly missed and we will remember you in everything we do as a dance community.”
Friend Charlotte Parmenter told The Sun, “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. Her death has brought pain to everyone, even those who barely knew her because she was a truly valued person in our school and community.”