Villagers searching for the body of Cambridge University student Alana Cutland who leapt from a light aircraft in Madagascar are due to sacrifice one of their cattle to help them in their hunt.
Around 400 local people from six villages have been searching for ten days for any trace of Alana, 19, who plunged 3,700ft to her almost certain death after opening the door of the Cessna carrying her as a passenger.
But they have so far failed to find any trace of the troubled teenager who is believed to have started suffering from paranoid episodes due to medication she may have taken while working on a conservation project.
Cambridge University student Alana Cutland, 19, fell out of a light aircraft in Madagascar
Investigators say tragic Alana opened the door to the out of the four-seater Cessna 182 (pictured) five minutes into the journey over Madagascar – just minutes after being given safety instructions on how to open the door in an emergency
Now the poverty-stricken villagers who have been searching without any payment from either the Madagascar authorities or the British Government are turning to their local Malagasy religion for assistance.
They have decided to sacrifice one of their zebu cattle called ‘Black and White’ in a ceremony tomorrow to be held at the airfield where the Cessna took off from just minutes before the teenager fell out.
The 15-year-old female animal weighing around 180kgs has been selected for sacrifice in a so-called Joro ceremony because of its unusual black and white colouring which villagers hope will find favour with their local God called Zanahary.
Villager Francine at Anjajavy village in northern Madagascar, where villagers search for Alana Cutland after she stayed there during her trip
Chief Prosper at Anjajavy village in northern Madagascar, where Cutland, 19, stayed during her research trip to the country
The ceremony is being arranged by the chief of the village of Anjajavy which is around three miles from the luxury Anjajavy Le Lodge Hotel running the conservation project where Alana was an intern.
The chief known as Prosper said: ‘A police officer came to our village to tell us about the girl the day after she fell.
‘He gave us GPS co-ordinates of the area where he thought her body was. ‘Every day we have been searching for her, but we have found nothing.
‘Now we feel we should practise a ceremony to find the body. It’s something that should be done in their sort of situation when you cannot find something.’
The air strip where Alana Cutland’s plane took off near where she stayed during her research trip to Madagascar
Zebu cow believed to be sacrificed by villagers of Anjajavy village in northern Madagascar to aid the search for Alana Cutland, it will be taken to the airstrip tomorrow for the ceremony
Chief Propser, 42, said the ceremony was aimed at helping to appease the local God so that the villagers would receive guidance in their hunt.
He added: ‘It will take place at the airfield because that is where she was last alive on the ground.
‘We will lay down the zebu, tie up its feet and ask the God to guide us on our search.
‘The people will all have to face to the East and then we will cut off the head of the Zebu.
‘We will cook the meat and share it with all the people who have been searching. ‘
Anjajavy village in northern Madagascar, where Miss Cutland stayed during her research trip to the country
After the animal is killed, they will go out search and then come back to eat it when it is cooked. This will give them God’s help as they look for her.’
Villagers in Anjajavy live in a cluster of simple wooden huts on the beach with roofs made of woven coconut tree leaves, surrounded by goats and scrawny chickens.
Most of the adults either work at the hotel or as fishermen earning between £25 and £100 a month, but they have still given their time for free and have walking up to 15 miles a day in the search for the teenager Chief Prosper added: ‘Everyone has been participating in the search because we want to find this girl.
Around 400 local people from six villages have been searching for ten days for any trace of Alana, 19, who plunged 3,700ft to her almost certain death after opening the door of the light aircraft she was in. Rescue search area of Madagascan countryside pictured
An aerial image shows the area search teams are scouring to find Alana’s body
‘A lot of people work at the hotel where she was staying and without the hotel, this village would not exist.
‘We believe it s our obligation to take care of the guests from the hotel.
‘As a human being, it is also sad to not find a body of someone who has died so they can be sent home.
Chief Prosper at Anjajavy village in northern Madagascar
‘We will carry on looking for as long as it takes. In Malagasy traditional society, it is not very good for a body not to be found.
‘That is why we want to take part. We have to do all we can do to bring the girl’s body back to her homeland and her family.
‘It is our tradition that she should be returned to her parents. She was a very beautiful girl.
‘We have been receiving no money. We are searching for free. All the village chiefs decided they had to help and we invited all the people to take part.
‘The authorities said there may be a reward for the individual who finds the body and one for all the people who have searched, but it is just a promise. We don’t know how much.’
Chief Prosper said the decision to sacrifice a zebu was made after advice from the village elders.
He said that Joro ceremonies had been used in the village with some success previously to bless big projects like road building
The ceremonies are normally held beside sacred Baobaba trees which are unique to Madagascar, but tomorrow’s even will be the first time a sacrifice has been held at the airfield owned by the hotel.
Chief Prosper said: ‘The authorities told us where to look for the girl, but after failing in the search, our elders who are wise people told us that we should not work like this.
The picturesque Anjajavy village in northern Madagascar, where villagers are responding to the tragedy by searching and ‘turning to our God’
‘The elders reminded us that that when there is a big search like this, the first thing we have to do is make a Joro. When there is a problem we have to turn to our God.’
The female black and white zebu which has been selected for sacrifice is currently grazing in a local forest and will be brought to the village tonight in preparation for it to be taken to the airfield tomorrow.
Alana from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, flew to Madagascar on July 16 to study crabs in the Anjajavy area, and at first appeared normal and in good spirits, according to staff at the hotel.
Alana was flying back from Anjajavy Le Lodge where she was staying in a remote area in the north of the island (pictured) to the capital where she was due to fly back to the UK at the request of her parents when she is said to have fallen ill
But her mental health suddenly worsened and she began having bouts of paranoia, even imagining that she might go to jail in Madagascar if she failed to complete her crab project.
Her parents Alison and Neil, 63, became so concerned that they arranged for her to cut short her 42 day trip and return home after just eight days.
But on the first leg of her journey, she opened the door of the Cessna taking her to Madagascar’s international airport at Antananarivo, and plunged 3,700ft to her death.
The pilot and UK teacher Ruth Johnson, 51, who had befriended her at the hotel and was accompanying her on the flight on July 25, desperately tried to grab hold of her to stop jumping.
Alana was hanging half out of the plane for up to two minutes before she slipped away from the grasp of Mrs Johnson who was holding her leg.
Images taken by a Madagascan air rescue team who are currently searching forests and swamp land for the body of Alana Cutland