Chinese billionaire missing after France helicopter 'crash'

20th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

A Chinese billionaire in France to buy a major Bordeaux vineyard is missing after the helicopter he was travelling in apparently crashed into a river on Friday.

Lam Kok, the 46-year-old head of the Hong Kong-based Brilliant group, was surveying his new property from overhead in a helicopter piloted by the former owner James Gregoire when the accident happened.

His 12-year-old son and an interpreter were also on board, but Lam Kok's wife pulled out at the last minute saying she was "scared of helicopters", an AFP photographer at the scene said.

They were planning to take a short tour of the vineyard and the grounds of the Chateau de la Riviere, and when they did not return after 20 minutes, those who had stayed behind contacted emergency services.

A major search operation was launched using emergency helicopters and around 100 officers on foot.

Inflatable boats were deployed after police received a call from a member of the public indicated the helicopter may have fallen into a nearby river, but no trace of the helicopter has yet been found.

In a bizarre twist of fate, a previous owner of the Chateau de la Riviere -- one of the region's oldest estates -- was killed in a helicopter crash in 2002.

Gregoire bought the 65-hectare (160-acre) property, the largest in Bordeaux's Fronsac appellation, the following year.

Earlier Friday, the vineyard's managing director Xavier Buffo said during a press conference the sale marked the largest Chinese investment in Bordeaux property to date.

Hong Kong-based Brilliant, which specialises in rare teas and luxury hotels in China, had said it wanted to turn the chateau into a high class tea and wine tasting centre.

The group, whose interests range from Pu'er -- a dark fermented tea from China's Yunnan region -- to top-end resorts -- also planned to build a hotel near the chateau.

The Chinese have developed a taste for the finest French wines and their extensive buying power has been credited with pushing prices for certain vintages to record levels.

In recent years they have increasingly taken to buying vineyards as well. But the level of each transaction has generally been under 10 million euros ($13.6 million).

© 2013 AFP

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