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Villagers ‘find Cambridge student Alana Cutland’s body’ after 12-day search for the 19-year-old

The body of tragic student Alana Cutland is believed to have been found in Madagascar nearly two weeks after she leapt to her death from a light aircraft.

The grim discovery was made today by local villagers who have been searching constantly for any sign of Alana, 19, since she plunged 3,700ft to the ground.

The police chief who has been leading the search confirmed that the body had been provisionally identified as the teenager by her hair colour, shoes and clothing.

Villagers are preparing to move the body to the tiny airstrip at Anjajavy in north west Madagascar before it is flown 400 miles by helicopter to the capital Antananarivo tomorrow.

Around 400 local people and 15 police have been searching for Alana since July 25 when she opened the door of the Cessna 182 which she was flying in and fell to her almost certain death.

The pilot desperately tried to pull the door shut with one hand while controlling the plane with the other to stop her falling out, but half her body was left hanging out of the four-seater plane.

British teacher Ruth Johnson, 51, from Banbury, Oxfordshire, who was sitting next to Alana also desperately held on to her leg to stop her falling, while screaming, ‘Come back, Come back.’

But Alana pulled away from her grasp and fell after a struggle lasting two minutes, according to air accident investigators in Madagascar.

Ms Jones has since recreated the moment for authorities to show her and the pilot’s attempts to stop Alana from jumping out. 

The body was found in a remote area of woodland and scrub 12 days after she fell on the first leg of her journey home following an eight day spell studying crabs on a conservation project

Alana opened the door just five minutes after taking off from the airstrip at Anjajavy.

She had been suffering psychotic episodes and bouts of anxiety, possibly as a result of a reaction to anti-malaria pills or other medication.

Police in Madagascar have confirmed that toxicology tests will now be carried out on the body to determine what medicines Alana had been taking.

The body was found just a day after villagers at Anajajavy sacrificed one of their precious zebu cattle to try and get their local God to help them find the body of the teenager.

Local police chief Spinola Nomenjahary who has been co-ordinating the search for Alana said: ‘The body was found on the ground. It was recognised as being Alana from her clothes, hair and shoes.

‘The body has been wrapped in a plastic sheet and will be flown to Antananarivo tomorrow by helicopter. We have already informed the British embassy of the discovery.

‘The villagers have been searching for two weeks for her and they are happy that they have done their obligations and they have recovered the body.’

The village chief at Anjajavy who is called Chief Prosper said he was happy that the body had been found so that the family of Alana could be given some closure.

Chief Prosper added: ‘We are very pleased after nearly two weeks of searching to have found her. The body was found just after lunchtime by villagers and they are carrying her back from the search site.’

Alana had been working on a conservation project at Anjajavy Le Lodge resort, conducting research into the population of crabs on the idyllic tropical beaches in the area.

Statements from hotel staff given to local police have confirmed that she was behaving normally and was in ‘good spirits’ when she arrived at the resort on July 16 as part of a self-funded internship.

But within days her mental health deteriorated and she began suffering from paranoid episodes, confusion and sleepless nights, even thinking that she could be jailed by Madagascar authorities if she failed in her crab research.

Alana’s parents Neil and Alison Cutland, both 63, became increasingly concerned after a series of fraught telephone calls with her and eventually arranged for her to return home just eight days into her planned 42 day trip.

The couple arranged for Mrs Johnson to travel with her and look after her on her flight.

Mrs Johnson who was teaching at a local school in Anjajavy had befriended Alana while they were staying together at the Anjajavy Le Lodge resort.

The tragedy happened as they were being flown by a Cessna taking her to Madagascar’s international airport at Antananarivo.

More than 100 villagers attended the so-called Joro sacrifice ceremony on Monday morning on the airstrip.

The villagers all stood in silence and turned to face the east beside the runway so they could face the direction of the sunrise which represents the arrival of new life in Malagasy beliefs.

They then set off to continue their search before returning just before sunset to feast on a stew made from the meat of the 15-year-old female zebu which was called ‘Black and White’.

Chief Prosper who arranged the ceremony on the advice of local elders said he was hopeful that it would encourage a local god called Zanahary to guide the locals in their search.

The poverty-stricken villagers had vowed to continue their search, despite not being paid for their efforts

Before the body was found, Chief Prosper said: ‘The ceremony went very well and we are hoping it will enable us to find the body of the girl very quickly so she can be returned to her family.

‘We are all very sad about what happened to her. It is part of our tradition that bodies should be recovered and returned to a family.

‘The villagers who came to the Joro went off in the hope that they would soon find her. They will return later to feast on a stew made of the zebu and served with rice to give them strength and energy.’

The search for Alana’s body was conducted in a 40 square kilometre area which includes swamps, a lake, dense forest and scrubland, leading to fears that her remains might never be found.

Chief Prosper admitted there were difficulties in the hunt, saying villagers were using machetes to cut through thick vegetation to get into the most inaccessible areas of the countryside.

He said: ‘Some of the people are searching barefooted because they cannot afford shoes. It is difficult for them because there is sharp grass and stones cutting their feet.

‘There are also mosquitos and snakes, but the people here are used to tough conditions and they can deal with it.’        

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