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3 French Star Athletes Die In Helicopter Crash In Argentina

Two helicopters collided during the filming of a French reality TV show Monday, killing 10 people, including two Olympic medalists and an accomplished sailor. News of the crash in Argentina has left France in mourning, Prime Minister Manuel Valls says.

In addition to the athletes and five other French citizens, two Argentine pilots died in the accident.

The crash occurred shortly after the two helicopters took off in a mountainous area in La Rioja province. One of the helicopter's tail section reportedly touched the other craft. Investigators do not yet know the cause of the crash; there were no survivors.

Swimmer Camille Muffat, 25, boxer Alexis Vastine, 28, and sailor Florence Arthaud, 57, had widely different backgrounds and personalities. Vastine was famously passionate, while Muffat was a "shy and unassuming champion," Agence France-Presse says. And Arthaud had the skill and fortitude to endure long races over the ocean.

From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports:

"The show, called Dropped, was to air this season on French television. It consisted of dropping teams of world-class athletes into remote locations, in a contest to see who could make it back to civilization first.

"The accident happened when two helicopters collided. Ten people were killed — including the athletes and production crew and two Argentinian pilots.

"The athletes were beloved sports stars in France: a sailor who became the first woman to win a solitary sailing race across the North Atlantic; an Olympic boxer who won bronze in the light welterweight category in 2008; and a swimmer who earned her glory at the London Olympic games in 2012, winning a gold, silver and bronze in freestyle."

President Francois Hollande said the deaths had brought on "an immense sadness," AFP reports. The agency adds that Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, "The whole of France is in mourning this morning."

This isn't the first time the company behind Dropped has seen a death during one of its shows. Two years ago, a contestant in another endurance show died of a heart attack — an event that came just before the physician who had been looking after the contestants committed suicide, Reuters notes.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.