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HELICOPTER CRASH

HELICOPTER CRASH

French sports stars killed in helicopter crash

UPDATED: France was plunged into mourning Tuesday after the deaths of three sports stars, including an Olympic champion swimmer and one of the world's best sailors, in a helicopter crash while filming a reality TV show in Argentina.

French sports stars killed in helicopter crash
Photo shows wreckage from the helicopter crash in Argentina still burning. Photo: Screengrab BFMTV

Champion sailor Florence Arthaud, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine were among those killed when two helicopters filming the survival series "Dropped" crashed into each other in the rugged mountains of north west Argentina, local officials said.

"Apparently, the two helicopters collided as they were filming. There are no survivors," provincial spokesman Horacio Alarcon told AFP.

He said the weather conditions were good and the cause of the crash was unknown.

Argentine media showed the wreckage of the two helicopters in flames on the dry scrubland, in La Rioja province.

Alongside the three sports stars, five French TV crew members and two Argentine pilots died in the crash, a police source said.

(Olympic gold medalist Camille Muffat celebrates winning gold in London in 2012. AFP)

Arthaud, 57, was considered one of the best sailors in the world, a woman who conquered what had been a strictly male-dominated sport. Her titles included the 1990 Route du Rhum, the most prestigious race to cross the Atlantic solo.

Muffat, 25, was a top swimmer at the London Olympics in 2012, bringing home three medals, including the gold in the 400-meter freestyle.

(Aerial picture taken on October 23, 2007 shows the French skipper Florence Arthaud aboard the monohull "Deep Blue". AFP)

Vastine, 28, won a bronze medal at the Beijing games in 2008 in the light welterweight category.

Reaction to the tragedy and tributes to the victims poured in on Tuesday.

A statement from the Elysée Palace said President François Hollande learned about the deaths "with immense shock and emotion" and expressed "condolences and support" to the victims' friends and families.

"Immense sadness over this tragedy. The whole of France is in mourning today. Thoughts go to the families of the victims," tweeted French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

The minister for sport Thierry Braillard said: "French sport is in mourning. We have lost three great champions".  

 

'Complicated conditions' 

"Dropped," which was to air on French television channel TF1, involved eight sports stars being dropped into inhospitable environments for an adventure- and survival-themed reality show.

The other stars participating in the show were swimmer Alain Bernard, cyclist Jeannie Longo, footballer Sylvain Wiltord, snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer and figure skater Philippe Candeloro.

None of them were among the victims.

The provincial government said a cast and crew of around 80 people, mostly French nationals, had descended on the area in recent days to film the series.

Production company Adventure Line Productions (ALP) said it was "shattered" by the tragedy. It said it would "of course" immediately stop production and repatriate the teams.

'Extreme' landscape 

The crash happened around 5:00 pm (2000 GMT) near the town of Villa Castelli, about 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) north of the capital Buenos Aires, said provincial security secretary Cesar Angulo.

The provincial government said the crash happened in the Quebrada del Yeso gorge.

One of the helicopters was provided by the provincial government and the other by the police force in the neighboring province of Santiago del Estero.

Police and firefighters were still working to recover the victims' bodies when night fell, using floodlights to illuminate the area, a police source told AFP.

"It's been four hours since the collision and (the wreckage) is still on fire. There's smoke rising from the helicopters," said a police source at the scene.

French prosecutors opened a manslaughter investigation into the accident — standard procedure in France when a national dies abroad.

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HELICOPTER CRASH

French sports stars to return home after crash

Four top French athletes and crew from a reality TV show were cleared to return home on Thursday after the tragic helicopter crash which killed 10 cast members and colleagues.

French sports stars to return home after crash
The remains of one of the helicopters that crashed in Argentina, killing ten people. Photo: Screengrab BFM TV

Investigating judge Daniel Herrera gave the green light for Olympic champion swimmer Alain Bernard, figure skater Philippe Candeloro, cycling legend Jeannie Longo and snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer to return after questioning them about Monday's crash in Argentina's remote northwest.

The final participant on the show, former international and Arsenal footballer Sylvain Wiltord, had already returned to France before the crash.

"I spoke to the people I needed to speak and gathered their testimony and I have decided to allow all members of the production and participants to return to their country," Herrera told AFP.

There were no survivors in Monday's deadly collision between two helicopters that were filming the reality series "Dropped" in the rugged terrain of La Rioja province.

The crash killed Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, renowned yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine, as well as five French television crew members and two Argentine pilots.

An agent for one of the sports stars spoken to Thursday said the entire group would take a Friday night flight to France, arriving in Paris Saturday morning — a plan confirmed by a source close to the case.

A team of officers from France's gendarmerie police force was meanwhile en route to join their Argentine counterparts to comb through the charred wreckage of the helicopters and work to identify the bodies.

Investigators from France's air accident investigation authority, the BEA, as well as helicopter manufacturer Airbus Helicopters and engine maker Turbomeca, are already working at the scene, where they have begun dismantling the aircraft, looking for clues.

Argentine forensic experts are waiting for their French counterparts to arrive to begin identifying the victims' remains, a local coroner said.

Investigators will have to rely on dental records or DNA tests to identify the badly burned bodies, officials say.

"Dropped," which was to air on French channel TF1 but was immediately canceled after the crash, featured sports stars who were taken blindfolded into rugged environments and given 72 hours to get to a place where they could charge a mobile phone.

Initial investigations indicate the crash was caused by human error, officials say.

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