French sports stars killed in Argentina helicopter crash

The burning wreckage of two helicopters which collided mid-air near Villa Castelli, in the Argentine province of La Rioja, on March 9 2015. (Aldo Portugal, AFP)

The burning wreckage of two helicopters which collided mid-air near Villa Castelli, in the Argentine province of La Rioja, on March 9 2015. (Aldo Portugal, AFP)

A group of French sports stars participating in a reality television show were among 10 people killed Monday when their helicopters collided in mid-air while filming in northwestern Argentina.

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 La Rioja province, local officials said.

“Apparently, the two helicopters collided as they were filming. There are no survivors,” said provincial spokesperson Horacio Alarcon.

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

Eight French passengers and their two Argentine pilots died in the crash, a police source said.

The provincial government later said they included stars Arthaud (57), Muffat (25) and Vastine (28).

Survival-themed show
The series, 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 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.

Shooting began in late February in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of South America in the glacial landscape of Patagonia.

It then moved to La Rioja, whose scenic mountain landscapes are popular with tourists. The crash happened near the town of Villa Castelli around 1 100km north of the capital Buenos Aires.

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.

Recovery efforts
Police and firefighters were still working to recover the victims’ bodies when night fell, using floodlights to illuminate the area, a police source told Agence France-Presse.

Officials from the air force, which is in charge of investigating air accidents in Argentina, were en route to the scene.

“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. 

Television station TF1 issued a statement expressing sadness and solidarity for the families of the victims. 

Arthaud was one of the first women to carve a place for herself in the world of sailing and in 1990 secured the record for the fastest solitary crossing of the North Atlantic, according to her publisher’s site.

Muffat won 400 metres freestyle gold at the 2012 London Olympics. Vastine won bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

“I am sad for my friends, I’m shaking, I’m horrified, I can’t find the words,” Tweeted Sylvain Wiltord, ex-footballer for English Premier League club Arsenal and fellow cast member. – AFP, Reuters

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