Three French sports stars are among 10 people killed when two helicopters filming a popular European reality show crashed in a remote part of Argentina.
Olympic gold medal swimmer Camille Muffat, Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine and sailor Florence Arthaud – who were filming the reality survival show Dropped – died in the crash, according to a statement from La Rioja’s government.
The helicopters apparently collided in mid-air near Villa Castelli in La Rioja province, about 730 miles (1,170km) northwest of Buenos Aires, La Rioja Secretary of Security Cesar Angulo told TN television. All 10 people on board — eight French nationals and two Argentine pilots — were killed.
“An explosion occurred and it’s believed that they collided,” said Angulo, referring to the helicopters. Photographs showed the burning and smoking wreckage of the helicopters on the ground in dry scrubland with people gathered nearby.
The show’s producers, Adventure Line Productions — or ADL — said: “All the ADL teams are devastated and share the deep pain of the families and loved ones they are in contact with,” the statement said.
Argentine authorities were at the scene of the crash trying to determine its cause.
“The helicopter from La Rioja was a Eurocopter with a capacity to hold six people. It appears to have brushed against the other helicopter from Santiago del Estero shortly after take-off,” the statement from the provincial government said.
The crash occurred around 5:15pm local time, according to the Argentine news agency Telam. The rugged, sparsely populated area is on the edge of the Andes mountain range that separates Argentina and Chile.
French President Francois Hollande said: “The brutal demise of our compatriots is an immense sadness.”
Muffat, 25, won the gold medal in the 400m freestyle at the London Olympic Games in 2012, adding a silver medal in the 200m freestyle and a bronze in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. She had since retired from swimming to focus on her personal life.
“Camille was quite a shy and reserved person. She was discreet. But when it was time for a bit of a laugh she was always there,” said Olympic gold medalist Amaury Leveaux. “French sport has lost a great champion.”
Vastine won a bronze medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing, but his semifinal loss to Manuel Felix Diaz was marred in controversy as he was docked points by the referee in the final round. Vastine broke down in tears after the defeat.
In 2012, he lost in the quarterfinals at the London Games also amid controversy when he drew on points against Taras Shelestyuk of Ukraine, but lost on the countback rule, thus missing out on a medal.
Arthaud, who was 57, was a pioneer in sailing. In 1990, she won the famed Route du Rhum race — a trans-Atlantic single-handed yacht race between Brittany and the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe — on her boat Pierre 1er.
Former France and Arsenal striker Sylvain Wiltord, ice skating champion Philippe Candeloro, former Olympic swimming champion Alain Bernard and veteran cyclist Jeannie Longo are among the other French athletes who took part in the show, but none were involved in the accident.
“I am sad for my friends, I’m trembling, I’m horrified, I don’t have words. I can’t say anything,” Wiltord tweeted.
— Sylvain Wiltord (@sylwiltord) March 10, 2015
The Argentine statement identified the remaining victims as Laurent Sbasnik, Lucie Mei-Dalby, Volodia Guinard, Brice Guilbert and Edouard Gilles, as well as Argentine pilots Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Abate.