A midair collision involving two helicopters in northwestern Argentina on Monday night killed at least 10 people, three of whom were prominent French sports stars. French media immediately hailed them as “three of France’s finest athletes.”
In all, eight of the dead were French nationals, in addition to two Argentine pilots. They were killed while flying to a far-flung gorge in the province of La Rioja while filming the reality TV show “Dropped,” which chronicles celebrities foraging for food and shelter in barren environments.
This season’s show featured three famous French athletes: Camille Muffat, 25, who won three medals in swimming at the 2012 London Olympics; Alexis Vastine, 28, who won the bronze in boxing in Beijing in 2008; and renowned sailor Florence Arthaud, 57, who won the solo Atlantic Race as well as the Route du Rhum.
“Apparently, the two helicopters collided as they were filming,” provincial spokesman Horacio Alarcon told France 24. “There are no survivors.” He added in an interview with the Associated Press: “An explosion occurred, and it’s believed that they collided.” The helicopters were said to be “totally burned.”
It’s remains unclear what caused the crash. Pictures showed that conditions appeared fairly calm at the time of the crash, which occurred more than 700 miles north of Buenos Aires near the community of Villa Castelli. “The helicopter from La Rioja was a Eurocopter with a capacity to hold six people,” a statement released by the local provincial office said. “It appears to have brushed against the other helicopter from Santiago del Estero shortly after takeoff.”
A production company called Adventure Line Productions (ADL) confirmed the deaths. “All the ADL teams are devastated and share the deep pain of the families and loved ones they are in contact with,” the company said in a statement. “We are in contact with the production teams on site [and] with the French Argentine authorities. We will give more information as soon as possible.”
It was a violent, tumultuous end for a group of athletes who soared to the peak of French sports. Arthaud had become a symbol of feminism as one of the first women to gain prominence in the sport of sailing, long the domain of men. “I’ve lived my life in the fast lane,” France 24 quoted her saying. She had survived scores of scrapes with death, one when she was only 17. A car accident threw her into a two-month coma.
She expressed nonchalance when discussing her brushes with danger. “It just wasn’t my day,” she said after she was knocked off her boat at nighttime off the coast of Corsica and swam for two hours before getting rescued by a helicopter. “But miracles sometimes happen.”
Muffat was a gifted swimmer who crawled her way to three Olympic medals: a gold, a silver and a bronze. “Camille was quite a shy and reserved person,” Amaury Leveaux, another French gold medalist, told the Associated Press. “She was discreet. But when it was time for a bit of a laugh, she was always there. French sport has lost a great champion.”
The athletic accolades of Vastine were also what defined him. In the 2008 Olympics, the boxer took third in the light welterweight category. “This is politics, not sport,” he said of a hard-fought loss in London in 2012.
An investigation into the crash is ongoing, local authorities said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of sailor Florence Arthaud.
More from the Morning Mix: