France in mourning after athletes killed in helicopter crash

Champion yachtswoman Florence Arthaud, swimmer Camille Muffat and boxer Alexis Vastine among 10 killed during filming of a reality television show

French champion sailor Florence Arthaud in Paris, French Olympic gold medallist swimmer Camille Muffat, and French Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine died when two helicopters filming the survival series Dropped smashed into each other in the mountains of La Rioja province of Argentina. Photograph: Getty Images

French champion sailor Florence Arthaud in Paris, French Olympic gold medallist swimmer Camille Muffat, and French Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine died when two helicopters filming the survival series Dropped smashed into each other in the mountains of La Rioja province of Argentina. Photograph: Getty Images

 

France is grieving for three champion athletes and five cameramen and journalists who died when two helicopters collided in northwest Argentina during the filming of a reality television show.

Both Argentinian helicopter pilots were also killed, bringing the death toll to 10.

The two helicopters were heading into a remote gorge when the helicopters touched briefly and then fell to the ground, witnesses said. A video showed the moment of contact.

Sailing champion Florence Arthaud (57), Olympic gold medallist swimmer Camille Muffat (25) and boxer Alexis Vastine (28) had been hired by Adventure Line Productions to participate in a new television series called Dropped.

Pride and joy

Based on a successful Swedish programme, Dropped was to have debuted on TF1, France’s leading television network, next summer.

France is dispatching a team of investigators and a delegation from the sports ministry to the scene of the crash. President Francois Hollande said “the brutal disappearance of our compatriots is an enormous sadness”.

“All France is in mourning today,” prime minister Manuel Valls wrote in a tweet.

“They were our pride and joy,” said the speaker of the National Assembly, Claude Bartolone. “They made France shine throughout the world and they made us dream with their incredible exploits.”

Florence Arthaud was known as “the little fiancee of the Atlantic”. In 1990, two months after breaking the record for a solo crossing of the north Atlantic, she became the first woman to win the Route du Rhum yacht race from Brittany to the French West Indies. “Sailing is not a sport for machos,” she said on winning.

The lively daughter of an affluent publishing family, Arthaud said a near-fatal traffic accident which left her in a coma at the age of 17 was “the chance of a lifetime” because it saved her from doing nothing with her life.

Thereafter, she made “Tomorrow we’ll all be dead” her motto. Arthaud had just established a Mediterranean yacht race for women that was to have started this summer.

Camille Muffat was considered one of the greatest swimmers in French history. She won the gold medal for the 400-metre freestyle at the London Olympics in 2012 as well as a silver and a bronze .

She surprised sports fans by announcing her retirement two years later at the age of 24, saying: “My body could have taken it for 10 more years but I’m in charge of my life.”

Alexis Vastine’s family of boxers was already in mourning for his younger sister, Celie, who was killed in a car crash near Deauville earlier this year.

He won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but was deprived of a more prestigious medal because of a controversial refereeing decision, an experience repeated in London four years later.

Vastine recovered from a bout of depression and last year won the world military boxing championship. He had joined the French army in 2008 and hoped to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Argentine pilots were identified as Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Abate.

Argentina’s state news agency reported that the flying conditions had been ideal at the time of the crash.

Almost exactly two years ago, a contestant in Koh Lanta, an extremely popular and profitable adventure reality television programme produced by the same company for the same network, died of a heart attack.

The helicopter crash in Argentina may lead to a debate on “certain reality programmes that seem to push ever further in the search for adversity and exoticism, to spice up the game”, Le Monde predicted.