PARIS (Reuters) - The French sporting world paid tribute on Wednesday to the three stars killed in a helicopter crash in Argentina during filming of a reality TV show earlier this week.
As sports officials, relatives and friends paid respects at the Paris headquarters of the national sports institute, INSEP, local media focused on the possibility that pilot error caused the crash that killed yachtswoman Florence Arthaud, Olympic swimming gold medalist Camille Muffat and Olympic bronze boxer Alexis Vastine.
“French sport has lost three stars who shone ... these stars will live on as three markers in the collective memory,” said Thierry Braillard, junior minister for sports town and youth affairs.
In all, 10 people -- eight French, two Argentines -- died when two helicopters collided at low altitude in the remote western Argentina province of La Rioja on Monday afternoon. There were no survivors in the accident at around 5.15 p.m. local time (4.15 p.m. ET).
Beyond ministers and sports federation bosses present at the Paris tribute was Alain Vastine, father of Olympic light welterweight boxer Alexis, whose sister died in a car crash in January.
“To lose two children in two months -- life is unfair,” Alain Vastine, sobbing, told French TV news channel i>TELE. He watched at INSEP headquarters as friends laid flowers before enlarged photographs of the three dead sports stars and a minute of silence was held.
Speaking of his lost son, who vehemently disputed decisions that eliminated him respectively at the semi-final stage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the quarter-finals of the 2012 London Games, Vastine added: “The kid was just so unlucky.”
French air accident investigators have headed to Argentina to try to establish what exactly happened and French judicial magistrates have been asked to open an inquiry too.
Two pilots and several members of the ALP-TV production company involved in filming the adventure show “Dropped” for private French TV station TF1 TFFP.PA were among the dead.
Perhaps best known of the three killed sports stars was Arthaud, 57, known as the ‘Fiancee of the Atlantic’, -- a nickname she earned through many daring voyages, including a 1990 record for the fastest solitary Atlantic crossing.
She had a recent brush with death in 2011, when she fell off her boat into the Mediterranean. Rescuers whisked her out after she called her mother by mobile phone.
Muffat, 25, won 400 meters freestyle gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
Vastine, 28, won bronze in London and was preparing intensely for another bid for gold at the upcoming Brazil Olympics next year.
Reporting by Brian Love; editing by Justin Palmer