(Corrects time of accident in paragraph three)
* Ten killed as helicopters collide
* "French sport in mourning", says minister
* Second tragedy in 2 years for a TF1 reality show
By Jorge Otaola and Mark John
BUENOS AIRES/PARIS, March 10 Three French sports
stars -- Olympic swimmer Camille Muffat, yachtswoman Florence
Arthaud and boxer Alexis Vastine -- were among 10 people killed
when two helicopters collided in Argentina on Monday during the
filming of a reality TV show.
Authorities said it was still unclear what caused the
accident in the rugged western province of La Rioja near the
French media citing Argentinian sources said the helicopters
were flying through clear skies at an altitude of about 100
metres when they hit each other around 5.15 p.m. local time
Amateur footage showed dozens of people rushing through
heavy undergrowth toward the helicopters' burning wreckage.
"The sudden death of our fellow French nationals is a cause
of immense sadness," French President Francois Hollande's office
said in a statement.
Two pilots and several members of the ALP TV production
company involved in filming the adventure show "Dropped" for
private TV station TF1 were among the dead, officials
As part of the show other contestants were standing
blindfolded on the ground a few hundred metres from the
helicopters' flight path, French media reported. They ran to the
crash site but could not extinguish the fire, a contestant's
assistant told French broadcaster RFI.
"The whole of French sport is in mourning because we have
lost three huge champions," Thierry Braillard, junior minister
for sports, town and youth affairs, told RTL radio.
"Florence Arthaud - we all knew her as the 'Fiancee of the
Atlantic'," he said, referring to a nickname she earned through
her many daring voyages including a 1990 record for the fastest
solitary crossing of that body of water.
TF1 issued a statement expressing solidarity for the
victims' families. French media said filming had been suspended
and the crew and other contestants were heading back to France.
"We have no details on the exact circumstances at the
moment," TF1 chief executive Nonce Paolini said. "All I can say
at the moment is that we are in a state of complete shock."
"Dropped" involves contestants being left in the wilderness
and using their skills to find their way back to civilisation.
The collision was the second time in two years that a
reality show produced by ALP for TF1 had been hit by tragedy.
In April 2013 the doctor charged with looking after the
contestants in the long-running Koh-Lanta endurance show
committed suicide after one of the competitors died following
one of the tests, complaining of heart pains.
Arthaud, 57, was one of the first women to carve a place for
herself in the top levels of sailing.
She had a 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 metres freestyle gold at the 2012 London
Olympics. Vastine, 28, won bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
"I am sad for my friends, I'm shaking, I'm horrified, I
can't find the words," Sylvain Wiltord, an ex-footballer for
English Premier League club Arsenal and fellow cast member
The victims included the helicopters' two pilots, La Rioja's
security chief Cesar Angulo told reporters earlier.
"There were no survivors, according to the information we
have," Angulo said.
Argentina's official news agency Telam said one of the
helicopters belonged to the provincial government and the other
to organisers of a survival competition that had been held for
three years near the village of Villa Castelli.
(Writing by Mark John; Additional reporting by Jean-Philippe
Lefief in Paris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)