Argentina judge to start taking testimony in reality TV crash

12th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

An Argentine judge was to start taking testimony Thursday as five French gendarmes flew in to investigate the helicopter crash that killed 10 people during a reality TV shoot, including three top French athletes.

There were no survivors in the deadly collision between two helicopters in a remote, mountainous area of northwest Argentina where the reality series "Dropped" was being filmed.

The judge assigned to the case, Daniel Herrera, said he would start by questioning other people involved in the production and that they could then return home in 48 hours.

Four French sports stars who were not on board the helicopters and dozens of TV crew members have been holed up at a hotel in the small town of Villa Union, waiting to testify in the inquiry and return home to their families.

The five officers from France's gendarmerie police force will join their Argentine counterparts, who are still combing through the charred wreckage of the two helicopters and working to identify the bodies.

Two of the officers are aviation experts who will investigate the crash along with Argentine officials and the French air accident investigation authority, the BEA.

The other three are forensic experts who will help identify the badly burned bodies of the victims.

"It is tough because the bodies are burned beyond recognition," said Herrera.

The judge said he will speak to the cast and crew of the show who were not involved in the crash, which was the deadliest in the history of reality TV.

He will first of all "explain the process to them and try to ease their worries," he said.

"Dropped," which was to air on French channel TF1 but was immediately canceled after the crash, featured sports stars who were taken blindfolded into rugged environments and given 72 hours to get to a place where they could charge a mobile phone.

Monday's twin helicopter crash killed Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, renowned yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine, as well as five French television crew members and two Argentine pilots.

Initial investigations indicate the crash was caused by human error, said Roberto Ludenas, spokesman for the provincial government.

The two six-seater Eurocopters, built in 2010, "were in excellent condition," he told AFP.

- 'Nothing we could do' -

Arthaud's brother told French newspaper Nice-Matin that she would be buried on Sainte-Marguerite, a Mediterranean island off the coast of Cannes.

Arthaud, 57, was considered one of the best sailors in the world, conquering what had been a male-dominated sport. Her titles included the 1990 Route du Rhum, the most prestigious transatlantic solo race.

Muffat, 25, won three medals at the 2012 London Olympics, including gold in the 400-meter freestyle. Vastine, 28, won bronze at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In an interview with AFP, French figure skater Philippe Candeloro, a cast member who was not on either helicopter, said: "We're left asking ourselves, 'Why them and not us?'"

He also described rushing to the crash site from the spot where he had been waiting his turn to fly to the next shoot.

An amateur video taken from the ground showed the helicopters flying extremely close, their rotors clipping and both aircraft plummeting.

"We rushed to the scene of the accident and when we arrived, the helicopters were in flames. There was nothing we could do," Candeloro said.

"We wanted to help them but we were powerless because of the fire. We didn't have water or a fire extinguisher. It was in the middle of the bush."

Another participant, Olympic champion swimmer Alain Bernard, told AFP he felt like he was living "a bad dream."

"I just want to testify in the inquiry and go home. And go visit Camille's parents," he said.

The other participants on the show were cyclist Jeannie Longo and snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer, who are still in Argentina, and former France and Arsenal footballer Sylvain Wiltord, who had already returned to France before the crash.

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© 2015 AFP

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