Three French sports stars were among 10 people killed in a helicopter crash in Argentina, the French presidential office has confirmed.
Two helicopters ran into each other in La Rioja province near the Andes Mountains in the country’s north-western province on Monday, killing eight French nationals and their two Argentine pilots.
Olympic swimmer Camille Muffat, yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and boxer Alexis Vastine lost their lives in the accident, which according to French media quoting local sources happened at around 8 p.m. local time (23:00GMT).
The two dead pilots were involved in filming of the TV survival show ‘Dropped’. The Adventure Line Production (ALP) TV production company was making the show, which flies celebrities into rugged terrain by helicopter and film their struggle back to civilisation, for channel TF1.
“The sudden death of our fellow French nationals is a cause of immense sadness,” French President Francois Hollande’s office said in a statement.
Authorities said it was yet to ascertain the cause of the crash and investigations are under way.
Muffat, 25, won three medals, including gold in the 400m freestyle in the 2012 London Olympics.
Visitine, 28, won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the light-welterweight category.
Arthaud, 57, was a very successful sailor who won the 1990 Route du Rhum, the prestigious solo Atlantic race. She had scraped through death in 2011 when she fell off her boat in the Mediterranean. Rescuers retrieved her after she called her mother by mobile phone.
Five of the members of the ALP TV crew killed were named as Laurent Sbasnik, Lucie Mei-Dalby, Volodia Guinard, Brice Guilbert and Edouard Gilles.
The Argentine pilots were identified as Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Abate. Argentina’s official news agency Telam said one of the helicopters belonged to the provincial government and the other to organisers of a survival competition that had been held for three years near the village of Villa Castelli.
Other contestants, who were part of the show, were made to stand blindfolded on the ground a few hundred metres away from the helicopters’ flight part when the accident happened. They ran to the crash site but could not contain the fire, according to French media.
French prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the deaths- standard procedure when nationals die outside their land.
Tributes have been paid to the dead stars, from France and beyond to the world of various sports involved.
“We are shocked by this sad news,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said.
“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these great athletes who have left us.
“The world of sport and the Olympic family have lost three of their key members.”
“The whole French sports is in mourning because we have lost three huge champions,” Thierry Braillard, junior minister of sports, town and youth affairs, told RTL radio.
“Florence Arthaud- we all knew her as the ‘Fiancee of the Atlantic’,” he said, referring to a nickname she earned through her many daring conquests, including a 1990 record for the fastest solitary crossing of that body of water.”
“We have no details on the exact circumstances at the moment,” TF1 chief executive Nonce Paolini said. “All I can say at the moment is that we are in a state of complete shock.”
“I am sad for my friends, I’m shaking, I’m horrified, I can’t find the words,” ex-Arsenal footballer and fellow cast member Sylvain Wiltord wrote in a tweet.
Boxer Amir Khan tweeted: “I’m very sad to hear of the passing of Alexis Vastine. I had the pleasure of competing against him in the amateurs and would like to send my deepest condolences to all his family and friends during this difficult time.”
The collision was the second time in two years that a reality show produced by ALP for TF1 dad been hit by tragedy.
In April 2013 the doctor looking after the contestants in a long-running Koh-Lanta endurance show committed suicide after one of the competitors died following of the tests, complaining of heart pains.