French experts go to Argentina to probe reality TV tragedy
FRENCH air investigators headed Wednesday to Argentina to probe a collision between two helicopters which killed ten people, including three of France’s best-known sports personalities, as they took part in a reality TV show.
The two French officials will join Argentine investigators who are already combing through the wreckage, looking for clues to what caused the helicopters to smash into each other shortly after takeoff in the rugged mountains of La Rioja province.
The crash on Monday killed Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine, as well as five French TV crew members and two Argentine pilots.
Emergency workers removed the victims’ remains from the wreckage near the small northwestern town of Villa Castelli on Tuesday and took them to the morgue in the provincial capital, about 300 kilometers (200 miles) from the crash site.
The victims’ bodies were burnt beyond recognition, provincial security secretary Luis Cesar Angulo told AFP.
There were no survivors in the crash, which authorities said happened in good weather.
French prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation — standard procedure when a French citizen dies abroad.
“Dropped”, which was to air on French channel TF1 later this year, involved eight sports stars being dropped in the wild for a survival contest.
Video taken from the ground showed the two helicopters flying extremely close together, then their rotors clipping and both aircraft plummeting to the ground.
Franck Firmin-Guion, head of Adventure Line Productions (ALP) that is making the show, said: “Suddenly, (one of the helicopters) swerved off course and hit the other one.”
It was the worst accident in the history of reality television.
French President Francois Hollande led the tributes, expressing his “immense sadness.”
Muffat, 25, won three medals at the 2012 London Olympics, including gold in the 400-meter freestyle, sealing her status as one of the best swimmers in French history.
She shocked the sporting world in June last year by announcing her retirement at the age of 24, saying she was exhausted by the long hours of training and wanted to pursue new challenges.
Arthaud, 57, was considered one of the best sailors in the world, and conquered what had then been a male-dominated sport. Her titles included the 1990 Route du Rhum, the most prestigious transatlantic solo race.
Vastine, 28, won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in the light welterweight category.
His death came just two months after his 21-year-old sister was killed in a car crash.
Muffat’s former coach Fabrice Pellerin told French radio station RTL: “What’s hard is to reconcile the image I have of Camille — who was unsinkable — with what happened.”
The swimmer’s partner, William Forgues, said she had been excited about appearing in the show.
“She was loving it,” he told AFP. “She was hoping not to go out first to be able to continue, to go on to another magical destination.”
In the southern French city of Nice, where Muffat lived, mourners lit candles beneath a large poster of a smiling Muffat wearing her three medals that was hung outside city hall.
At dusk, hundreds of people gathered in a public park to pay tribute to the swimmer.
A tearful tribute was also held for Vastine in his hometown in Normandy.
Paris Saint-Germain players plan to wear black armbands in their Champions League match against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Participants in “Dropped” were taken blindfolded into “inhospitable environments” and given 72 hours to get to a place where they could charge a cellphone, said the mayor of Villa Castelli, Andres Navarrete.
Other sports stars taking part — none of them involved in the accident — were former France and Arsenal football star Sylvain Wiltord, Olympic champion swimmer Alain Bernard, cyclist Jeannie Longo, snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer and figure skater Philippe Candeloro.
Production company ALP said it would immediately halt filming and repatriate the teams.
ALP was involved in another French reality TV accident in 2013, when a contestant in the survival show “Koh-Lanta” died of a heart attack in Cambodia and a doctor on the crew then committed suicide.
France’s consul general in Argentina, Raphael Trannoy, who visited the morgue where the bodies were taken on Tuesday, told AFP: “Our aim is to do what we can to get those who want to return to France home as soon as possible, but we have to respect local legal procedures because witnesses are likely to be questioned by investigators.”
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