Argentine Judge to Start Taking Testimony in Reality Show Crash

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Argentine Judge to Start Taking Testimony in Reality Show Crash

File Photo: People gather near the smoking remains of a helicopter that crashed with another near Villa Castelli in the La Rioja province of Argentina, Monday, March 9, 2015. (Associated Press)

Villa Castelli, Argentina: 

An Argentine judge was to start taking testimony today over a helicopter crash that killed 10 people during a reality TV shoot, including three of France's best-known athletes.

There were no survivors in the deadly collision between two helicopters in a remote area of 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.

"Dropped" features sports stars who are taken blindfolded into rugged environments and given 72 hours to get to a place where they could charge a cellphone.

Monday's crash of two choppers killed Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, 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 helicopters were in excellent condition," he told AFP.

Herrera traveled to the town of Villa Castelli near the crash site in the northwestern province of La Rioja, where Argentine investigators were combing through charred wreckage.

He said he will speak to five other cast members of the show and the film crew who were not involved in the crash, which was the deadliest in the history of reality TV, which often features celebrities in adventure settings.

French coroners have been allowed to come in and try to identify the remains of the dead athletes.

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

Officials from France's BEA air accident investigation authority have traveled to Argentina to assist in the probe.

Two BEA investigators were accompanied by a representative of Airbus Helicopters, the company that made the two Eurocopters involved in the crash, and another from engine manufacturer Turbomeca.

'Bad Dream'

In an interview with AFP, French figure skater Philippe Candeloro, a cast member who was not on either helicopter, said: "One always asks, "Why them and not us?'"

The remaining five participants in the show have been taken to a hotel in the small town of Villa Union.

One of them, Olympic champion swimmer Alain Bernard, told AFP he felt like he was living "a bad dream."

"You hear the helicopter flying away and then suddenly you hear a loud noise and then you don't hear the helicopter anymore. All that's burned into your mind, and it will be for life," he said.

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

Video taken from the ground showed the two helicopters flying extremely close, their rotors clipping and both aircraft plummeting.

In Paris, several hundred people from the French sporting world paid an emotional tribute to the three late stars.

Pictures of the trio, covered with flowers, were laid out at the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education, France's leading sports institute, whose head said it was like a "death in the family."

The national football and basketball federations announced a minute's silence ahead of all matches in France this weekend, while the rugby federation planned a round of applause before matches.

Officials in Nice, Muffat's hometown, said the Olympic pool where she trained would be renamed in her honor.

Posthumous Book Excerpt

Muffat, 25, won three medals at the 2012 London Olympics, including gold in the 400-meter freestyle, sealing her status as one of the best swimmers in French history.

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.

Newspaper Le Parisien published poignant excerpts from a forthcoming book, in which she wrote: "The fear of dying is for me the only real terror.... Life is a gift. You have to live it to the full and always believe fully in one's destiny."

Vastine, 28, won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in the light welterweight category. His death came just two months after his 21-year-old sister was killed in a car crash.

The other participants on the show were former France and Arsenal footballer Sylvain Wiltord, cyclist Jeannie Longo and snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer.

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