Florence Arthaud, the first woman to win the prestigious Route du Rhum trans-Atlantic sailing race, was killed March 9 when two helicopters filming a European reality show crashed in a remote part of Argentina. She was 57.
She was one of 10 people killed when the helicopters apparently collided in the air near Villa Castelli in La Rioja province, about 730 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. The dead also included French Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Camille Muffat and Olympic bronze medal-winning boxer Alexis Vastine.
Ms. Arthaud, one of France’s most beloved sportswomen, earned the nickname “the little fiancee of the Atlantic” when she triumphed in the Route du Rhum in 1990 at the helm of her trimaran Pierre 1er in record time.
Her victory in the famed race between Brittany and the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps, with the likes of Ellen McArthur, Isabelle Autissier and Karine Fauconnier finding inspiration in her feat.
During her Route du Rhum victory, Ms. Arthaud overcame difficult sea conditions, a faulty radio and a defective automatic pilot to beat a fleet of male sailors. A slipped disc forced her to wear a neck brace. She also set a record for a solo crossing of the Atlantic, with a time of 9 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes.
“You need character to go out to sea and to win the Route du Rhum as Florence did,” said Philippe Poupon, a winner of the Route du Rhum and Solitaire du Figaro races.
Ms. Arthaud, whose father was a publishing house director, was born on Oct. 28, 1957, in the chic Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. She did not live up to the huge expectations her victory raised, but she became a symbol of women’s rights after conquering a male-dominated sport.
With her voluminous hair, gravelly voice and cheerful banter, Ms. Arthaud also had a reputation for a tumultuous lifestyle. She was once sentenced for drunken driving.
After the birth of her daughter Marie in 1993, she took part in several crewed races and spent time on the Figaro circuit. In 2010, she failed in her bid to return on the Route du Rhum because of a lack of sponsorship.
“We are obviously less supported than the men,” Ms. Arthaud said. “Sponsors are more timorous when it comes to women. On equal budget, they will also pick the man.”
Ms. Arthaud, who was divorced, was planning to launch a women-only event in Marseille, where she lived when not in Paris.
Ms. Arthaud, who survived a car crash as a teenager, experienced a near-death experience in 2011 when she fell from her boat at night in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Her boat drifted away but she was located and saved, thanks to her mobile phone.
“I led an adventurer’s life and burnt the candle at both ends,” she once said.
— Associated Press