Six die in France helicopter crash at Verdon Gorge

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Map of France with department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence highlighted in red.
Image: Marmelad.

An AS532 Cougar helicopter has crashed in the south-east of France, killing all six occupants onboard. The aircraft, owned by manufacturing company Eurocopter, descended in the Verdon Gorge — located in the department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence — at roughly 13:30 CEST (1130 UTC) yesterday. Police lieutenant Benoit Gounine told Reuters "[t]he accident occurred in a place that's very difficult to access, which is complicating our work".

A spokesperson for Eurocopter said the occupants of the helicopter were company engineers and test pilots. The aircraft, which launched from a heliport near Marseille, was being taken on a test flight and was due to be delivered to a customer later. Gilles Bruniaux, security development director at Eurocopter, said the helicopter occupants were "hardened professionals".

Although investigations into the cause of the incident are ongoing, initial examinations by police and witness reports suggest the helicopter impacted with an electricity cable before descending. The owner of a restaurant close to the impact site told Agence France-Presse "customers having lunch on the terrace started yelling — there was an explosion and lots of black smoke".

Verdon Gorge, one of the most famous in Europe, has a depth of 700 metres (2300 feet). The gorge is notable for its popularity with hikers.