French investigators launch probe of Argentine crash


PARIS: A team of French investigators arrived in Argentina Wednesday to probe a twin helicopter crash that killed 10 people during a reality TV shoot, including three of France’s best-known sports stars.

The officials from France’s air accident investigation authority, the BEA, held meetings at the French embassy after arriving in Buenos Aires and were then due to travel to the crash site in the northwestern province of La Rioja, where Argentine investigators continued combing through the charred wreckage.

Monday’s crash 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.

The two BEA investigators were accompanied by a representative of Airbus Helicopters, the company that made the two Eurocopters involved in the crash, and another from engine manufacturer Turbomeca.

The French consul in Argentina, Raphael Trannoy, was already in La Rioja to meet with judicial officials leading the investigation and visit the morgue where the victims’ badly burnt remains were being identified.

In Paris, several hundred people from the French sporting world paid an emotional tribute to the three late stars.

“It’s a little bit of France that was left in Argentina,” said Sports Minister Patrick Kanner.

Pictures of the trio, covered with flowers, were laid out at the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education (INSEP), France’s leading sports institute, whose head said it was like a “death in the family.”

The victims — and five other sports stars including former France and Arsenal footballer Sylvain Wiltord — were contestants in the reality TV series “Dropped,” which involved sports personalities testing their survival skills in inhospitable environments.

It was the bloodiest accident in reality TV history.

There were no survivors in the crash, which authorities said happened in good weather.

Video taken from the ground showed the two helicopters flying extremely close, their rotors clipping and both aircraft plummeting.

Franck Firmin-Guion, head of Adventure Line Productions (ALP) that was making the show, said: “Suddenly, (one of the helicopters) swerved off course and hit the other.”

French media provided blanket coverage of the accident, with Le Parisien daily using the headline “Goodbye, champions.”

Some papers pointed the finger at the concept of reality TV, with the Sud Ouest regional daily asking: “Is even the best program… worth the sacrifice of 10 people and the death of three magnificent athletes?”

Posthumous book excerpt

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.

The president of the French swimming federation said the sport was suffering a “profound feeling of injustice” at the death of someone so young and talented.

Arthaud, 57, was considered one of the best sailors in the world, conquering what had been a male-dominated sport. Her titles included the 1990 Route du Rhum, the most prestigious transatlantic solo race.

Le Parisien published poignant excerpts from a forthcoming book, in which she wrote: “The fear of dying is for me the only real terror…. Life is a gift. You have to live it to the full and always believe fully in one’s destiny.”

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. (AFP)