• France's news in English

Search continues for billionaire after crash

AFP · 22 Dec 2013, 08:12

Published: 22 Dec 2013 08:12 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

There was little hope of finding alive Lam Kok, a 46-year-old Chinese tea-and-property tycoon, his interpreter or winemaker James Gregoire after police early Saturday recovered the body of Lam's 12-year-old son from the back of the wrecked helicopter lying in seven metres (23 feet) of water in the Dordogne river.

The four had boarded the helicopter piloted by Gregoire on Friday to make a celebratory tour of a vast Bordeaux chateau and wine-growing estate that Lam had just bought from the Frenchman.

Lam's wife had pulled out of the flight at the last minute, saying she was "scared of helicopters," said an AFP photographer who witnessed its take-off.

The doomed flight took place after a lavish event Friday marking Lam's multi-million-euro purchase of the 65-hectare (160-acre) wine estate, Chateau de la Riviere.

After searches Saturday involving police divers and sniffer dogs, authorities were Sunday to use a sonar to try and find the missing bodies.

Police reinforcements were also to add to the more than 100 officers already carrying out the search, a gendarme commander said.

Diplomats from China's embassy in France were at the scene since Saturday "to follow the search and provide assistance to the families," local French officials said in a statement.

Mangled parts of the chopper's fuselage and a camera were retrieved from the crash site, the AFP photographer saw. But police said strong currents were complicating the search for the three missing.

Lam had celebrated his purchase of the Chateau de la Riviere, one of the region's oldest estates, with an extravagant event Friday.

He held a press conference and spent time introducing himself as the new owner to staff before hosting a sumptuous meal.

Gregoire, the former owner, then offered to take Lam on a short tour of the vineyards and surrounding grounds in the helicopter.

Gregoire was seen patiently carrying out his pre-flight procedures with a checklist resting on his knees.

When the four did not return after 20 minutes, employees at the vineyard contacted emergency services.

Gregoire himself had bought the property, the largest in Bordeaux's Fronsac wine-producing region and close to the prestigious Saint-Emilion domain, in 2003 -- a year after the previous owner died in a plane crash.

During Friday's publicity event, the vineyard's managing director, Xavier Buffo, told reporters Lam's purchase was the largest Chinese investment in Bordeaux property to date.

Saturday, he expressed shock. "We can't believe this," Buffo told AFP. "We can't take it in, it's unthinkable."

The local mayor, Philippe Buisson, said it was too soon to say what Lam's wife would do with the estate.

Story continues below…

"Right now, she is displaying courage and great responsibility," he said.

Lam and his wife headed a Hong Kong-based group named Brilliant, which specialises in rare teas and luxury hotels in China. They had plans to turn the French chateau into a high-class tea- and wine-tasting centre.

The group -- whose interests range from Pu'er, a dark fermented tea from China's Yunnan region, to top-end resorts -- also planned to build a hotel near the vineyard.

Wealthy Chinese have developed a taste for fine French wines, and their extensive buying power has been credited with pushing prices for certain vintages to record levels.

In recent years they have increasingly taken to buying French vineyards as well. The value of each transaction has generally been under 10 million euros
($13.6 million), but Lam's purchase was estimated at much more than that.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Where exactly in France are Calais migrants being sent?
Photo: AFP

Here's where the 8,000 migrants in Calais are heading.

The annoying questions only a half French, half British person can answer
Photo: Beery/Flickr/AFP

Being half French, half British is means you get asked a lot of questions (and some of them can be a little annoying.)

Migrants bussed out of Calais Jungle to all corners of France
All photos: AFP

Hundreds of migrants are being bussed across France on Monday ahead of the demolition of the Jungle camp.

The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
A Prophet. Photo: YouTube Screengrab

Looking for something to watch?

The must-see French films of the millennium - Part Two
Rust and Bone. Photo: YouTube Screengrab

The newest French films you need to see before you die (or alternatively when you get some spare time).

Election Watch
Presidential hopeful reckons a pain au chocolat is 10 cents

So France happily takes the pastry out of him.

French ministry of defence officials die in plane crash
Screengrab: eddydeg/Twitter

The French Ministry of Defence officials were killed on Monday when a light aircraft went down on the island of Malta.

Revealed: The ten most stolen cars in France
A Smart car in Paris. Photo: JR_Paris/Flickr

Thieves in France are getting a taste for luxury cars, it seems.

Analysis - France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'to sell their French chateau'
All photos: AFP

Want to live where Brangelina got married?

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available