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Argentina investigates deadly helicopters crash


ARGENTINE officials are investigating Monday’s collision between two helicopters that killed eight French nationals and both Argentine pilots.

The officials are to be joined by French experts at the site of the crash near Villa Castelli, La Rioja province.

Three well-known French sports personalities were among the victims of the collision during the filming of TV survival show Dropped.

French President Francois Hollande said it was “a cause of immense sadness”.

The cause of the crash is as yet unclear. Video of the accident shows the helicopters flying close to each other in clear conditions, before one appears to fly into the other.

Argentine civil aviation investigators are combing the crash site, looking for mobile phones, documents and other mostly charred items.

President Hollande is also sending two investigators and two aeronautical advisors to Argentina to assist in finding out what went wrong.

French Consul General Raphael Trannoy is now in the regional capital of La Rioja, about 300km (200 miles) from the site, to help co-ordinate the investigation.

The small Argentine provincial town of la Rioja is a long way from anywhere. Nestled at the foot of the Andes, you can see why the producers of a TV show all about survival and the rugged outdoors would want to use this region as a backdrop.

But on Tuesday, as the French consul general and handful of television teams flew in to the town’s rudimentary airstrip, they came not to admire the scenery but to find out why two relatively new helicopters, flying in almost perfect weather conditions, collided in mid-air with such devastating consequences.

As a crowd of locals, children and adults alike, looked on through the wire, ambulances brought the bodies of the eight French nationals and the two Argentine helicopter pilots to the mortuary.

Outside, the partner of one of the pilots spoke to me as she waited patiently to be allowed in to see his body.

“He was a really experienced pilot, he’d spent years in the military and had worked with these [French] producers before,” said Azucena del Valle Aguero of pilot Juan Carlos Castillo.

As darkness fell the mortuary gates opened to allow in a small convoy bringing the regional governor and French Consul General Raphael Trannoy.

France’s yachtswoman Florence Arthaud, Olympic swimmer Camille Muffat and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine were the show’s celebrities on board at the time of the crash.

Reports in Argentina said French swimmer Alain Bernard, who was also taking part in the filming, narrowly escaped the crash after getting off one of the helicopters at the last minute to avoid overloading it.

On the show, which airs on French channel TF1, participants are flown into rough terrain and filmed while they attempt to find food and shelter.

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