France mourns three sports stars killed in reality TV copter crash

Much of France is in mourning and looking for answers over the crash of two helicopters in a remote part of Argentina that killed 10 people, three of them French sports stars taking part in a reality TV show.

Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, Olympic boxer and bronze medallist Alexis Vastine, and pioneering sailor Florence Arthaud died in the crash, which occurred when the helicopters apparently collided in the air near Villa Castelli, about 730 miles (1,170km) north-west of Buenos Aires.

All 10 people on board – eight French nationals and two Argentine pilots – were killed. The sports stars had been among the contestants in the reality TV show Dropped.

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Photographs and mobile phone footage shows the burning wreckage of the helicopters in dry scrubland of a sparsely populated area along the Andes mountain range that separates Argentina and Chile.

The crash is believed to be one the deadliest incidents yet related to reality TV shows, a sub-genre of which involves taking celebrities and others to far-flung places to face challenges against the elements.

French prime minister Manuel Valls said France’s foreign ministry is in contact with authorities in Argentina to determine what caused the crash. President Francois Hollande expressed “immense sadness” about those who died.

The deaths are likely to place new attention on risks involved with such shows. Two years ago, TF1 – France’s leading private sector network – cancelled the season of the Survivor-like show Koh Lanta after a 25-year-old participant died of a heart attack on the first day of filming in Cambodia.

Adventure Line Productions was behind both programmes. In a statement, the company said its staff were “devastated” and “share the deep pain of the families and loved ones”.

One of the helicopters brushed against the other shortly after take-off, a statement from the provincial government said.

The crew had arrived on Sunday in Villa Castelli.

The other victims were Laurent Sbasnik, Lucie Mei-Dalby, Volodia Guinard, Brice Guilbert and Edouard Gilles, as well as pilots Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Abate.

Vastine, 28, won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and lost in the quarter-finals four years later in London amid sporting controversy. He had reportedly vowed to win gold at the 2016 games in Rio.

Muffat, 25, won gold in the 400-metre freestyle in London, plus silver medal in the 200-metre freestyle and a bronze in the 4x200-metre freestyle relay. She had since retired from swimming.

Arthaud, 57, was a pioneer in sailing. In 1990, she became the first woman to win the famed Route du Rhum race, a trans-Atlantic single-handed yacht race between Brittany and the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.