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Manslaughter probe after top French athletes are killed in Argentine helicopter crash

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People put candles as they pay homage to Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat, in Nice southeastern France (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

People put candles as they pay homage to Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat, in Nice southeastern France (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

AP

Camille Muffat

Camille Muffat

PA

French sailor Florence Arthaud

French sailor Florence Arthaud

AP

Alexis Vastine

Alexis Vastine

AP

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People put candles as they pay homage to Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat, in Nice southeastern France (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

France has launched a manslaughter investigation after two helicopters collided in Argentina, killing 10 people including three celebrated French sport stars.

The victims were in Argentina to film reality television show 'Dropped', which sees contestants flown to a remote location and then told to find their way home.

Two helicopters carrying the French production team and the contestants collided on Monday shortly after take-off in the province of La Rioja, close to the Chilean border.

All those on-board, including the two Argentine pilots, died when the helicopters hit the ground and burst into flames.

It is not yet known whether pilot error, mechanical failure or weather conditions caused the crash. France's Air Transport Gendarmerie (GTA) has begun an investigation, and two specialists from the Office of Investigations and analyses - Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) - are travelling to the site of the crash.

Expert

The BEA said the pair would be accompanied by an adviser from Airbus, and an expert from Turbomeca - a French helicopter engine manufacturer.

Yesterday Francois Hollande, the French president, spoke of his "stupor and emotion" at the deaths.

"The sudden death of our fellow French nationals is a cause of immense sadness," he said. "They died because they wanted to push the boundaries."

Among the victims were three sports stars - Alexis Vastine, a boxer; swimmer Camille Muffat, and sailor Florence Arthaud. Arthaud (57) was one of the first women to carve a place for herself in the top levels of sailing. She had a brush with death in 2011 when she fell off her boat into the Mediterranean. Rescuers whisked her out after she called her mother by mobile phone.

"The whole of French sport is in mourning because we have lost three huge champions," said Thierry Braillard, junior minister for sports, town and youth affairs. "Florence Arthaud - we all knew her as the 'Fiancée of the Atlantic'," he said, referring to a nickname she earned through her many daring voyages, including a 1990 record for the fastest solitary crossing of that body of water. TV channel TF1 issued a statement expressing solidarity for the victims' families. French media said filming had been suspended and the crew and other contestants were heading back to France.

"We have no details on the exact circumstances at the moment," TF1 chief executive Nonce Paolini said. "All I can say at the moment is that we are in a state of complete shock."

"I am sad for my friends, I'm shaking, I'm horrified, I can't find the words," Sylvain Wiltord, an ex-footballer for English Premier League club Arsenal and fellow cast member, tweeted.

The collision was the second time in two years that a reality show produced by ALP for TF1 had been hit by tragedy.

In April 2013, the doctor charged with looking after the contestants in the long-running 'Koh-Lanta' endurance show committed suicide after one of the competitors died following one of the tests, complaining of heart pains. Authorities said it was still unclear what caused the accident in the rugged western province of La Rioja, near the Andes Mountains.

French media citing Argentinian sources said the helicopters were flying through clear skies at an altitude of about 100 meters when they hit each other around 5.15pm local time (10.15pm Irish time).

Amateur footage showed dozens of people rushing through heavy undergrowth toward the helicopters' burning wreckage.

The victims included the helicopters' two pilots, both of whom were military-trained, according to Argentine daily La Nacion. "There were no survivors," La Rioja's security chief, Cesar Angulo, said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk