France is in mourning after three national sports personalities were among 10 people killed in a double helicopter crash during the filming of a reality TV show in northwestern Argentina. Two Olympic medal winners — the 28-year-old boxer Alexis Vastine and 25-year-old swimmer Camille Muffat — and yachtswoman Florence Arthaud, 57, lost their lives in La Rioja province on Monday. Five other French nationals and two Argentinian pilots also died.
The sports stars arrived in Argentina on Sunday to record Dropped, a reality TV program scheduled to air on French channel TF1 this summer. During the show, celebrities are "dropped" in rough areas by helicopter and are supposed to find food and shelter to survive.
"Apparently, the two helicopters collided [in mid-air] as they were filming. There are no survivors," La Rioja spokesman Horacio Alarcon told AFP. A statement released by the provincial government said that one helicopter appeared to have brushed against the other shortly after takeoff at a height of around 100 meters.
This video apparently showing the incident was posted to the YouTube channel of the Argentinian news organization El Sol. The footage is a copy of a broadcast by the Argentinian news organisation Canal 9 Televida.
Videos of the aftermath of the crash in La Rioja province.
The crash occurred in Quebrada del Yeso near the Andes mountains bordering Chile and around 730 miles northwest of the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires. The area is rugged and sparsely populated but weather conditions were fine at the time of the incident, according to local authorities.
A manslaughter investigation into the incident has started in France.
A video said to be of one of the helicopters at the moment of takeoff.
The five other French nationals reportedly worked for the production company making the program. They have been named as Laurent Sbasnik, Lucie Mei-Dalby, Volodia Guinard, Brice Guilbert, and Edouard Gilles. The Argentine pilots were Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Abate.
Muffat won three medals (one gold, one silver, and one bronze) at the 2012 London Olympics. Then last summer, at the age of 24, she surprised everyone when she suddenly retired to focus on her personal life after 10 years dedicated to swimming. Muffat used to train with Yannick Agnel — the 22-year-old new French swimming wonder and already two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Arthaud was an accomplished sailor known by the affectionate nickname "the little fiancée of the Atlantic" since she won the famous Route du Rhum transatlantic sailing race in 1990. She was highly respected and also contributed in opening up the sailing race world to women.
Vastine lost Olympic fights in controversial circumstances at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012. While he did win the bronze medal in China he narrowly missed out at the last Olympic games, but was fighting to get back into the ring and finally win a gold medal in Rio in 2016.
Other French sports stars recording for Dropped include former Arsenal soccer player Sylvain Wiltord, former Olympic swimming champion Alain Bernard, and ice skating champion Philippe Candeloro.
Two teams of four athletes were competing against each other to find a way through nature. With no map nor compass they had to find a plug and then call the TV host to win. Every week, the losing team had to get rid of one of its members.
The trailer of the Swedish version of the Dropped show.
French political and sporting figures took to Twitter en masse on Tuesday morning to express sympathy to the families of the deceased athletes, production members and pilots.
French President François Hollande expressed immense sadness and said that the three stars made "France shine."
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his pain and said "Everyone in France is mourning today."
TF1 President, Nonce Paolini, said in a statement that "in this kind of circumstances, being silent is the only way to react." The TV channel's stock index value plummeted early this morning in Paris.
Back in 2013, a TF1 survival TV show was also involved in another tragedy when a 25-year-old contestant on Koh-Lanta candidate — the French equivalent to Survivor — died after a heart attack during the filming in Cambodia. The doctor in charge of the safety and health on the show killed himself one week after the tragedy, claiming in his suicide note that his name had been "sullied by the media."
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray