French sports stars among 10 killed in Argentine crash

Kenny Awotorebo

A group of French sports stars participating in a reality TV show were among 10 people killed when their helicopters collided in mid-air while filming in northwestern Argentina.

Champion sailor Florence Arthaud, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine were among those killed when two helicopters filming the survival series “Dropped” crashed into each other in the rugged mountains of La Rioja province, local officials said.

“Apparently, the two helicopters collided as they were filming. There are no survivors,” provincial spokesman Horacio Alarcon told AFP.

He said the weather conditions were good and the cause of the crash was unknown.

Argentine media showed the wreckage of the two helicopters in flames on the dry scrubland.

Eight French passengers and their two Argentine pilots died in the crash, a police source said.

The provincial government later said the victims included stars Arthaud, Muffat and Vastine.

Arthaud, 57, was considered one of the best sailors in the world, a woman who conquered what had been a strictly male-dominated sport. Her titles included the 1990 Route du Rhum, the most prestigious race to cross the Atlantic solo.

Muffat, 25, was a top swimmer at the London Olympics in 2012, bringing home three medals, including the gold in the 400-meter freestyle.

Vastine, 28, won a bronze medal at the Beijing games in 2008 in the light welterweight category.

– ‘Complicated conditions’ –

“Dropped,” which was to air on French television channel TF1, involved eight sports stars being dropped into inhospitable environments for an adventure- and survival-themed reality show.

“We’ve got people who are way beyond average for their record of achievements, that’s clear. And we can tell that on the ground, on all kinds of terrain, that they’ve got the ability to adapt,” the show’s presenter, Louis Bodin, said of the series in a recent interview with French radio station RTL.

“Of course, the logistics, the conditions are sometimes a little complicated.”

The other stars participating in the show were swimmer Alain Bernard, cyclist Jeannie Longo, footballer Sylvain Wiltord, snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer and figure skater Philippe Candeloro.

None of them were among the victims.

The provincial government said a cast and crew of around 80 people, mostly French nationals, had descended on the area in recent days to film the series.

Shooting began in late February in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of South America in the glacial terrain of Patagonia.

It then moved to La Rioja, whose scenic mountain landscapes are popular with tourists.

Film crews from the series had already shot preliminary footage in Villa Castelli in late September, said local news site DataRioja.

– ‘Extreme’ landscape –

The crash happened around 5:00 pm (2000 GMT) near the town of Villa Castelli, about 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) north of the capital Buenos Aires, said provincial security secretary Cesar Angulo.

The provincial government said the crash happened in the Quebrada del Yeso gorge.

One of the helicopters was provided by the provincial government and the other by the police force in the neighboring province of Santiago del Estero.

Police and firefighters were still working to recover the victims’ bodies when night fell, using floodlights to illuminate the area, a police source told AFP.

“It’s been four hours since the collision and (the wreckage) is still on fire. There’s smoke rising from the helicopters,” said a police source at the scene.

Officials from the air force, which is in charge of investigating air accidents in Argentina, were en route to the scene.

Happenings Media