PARIS (AP) - All six people on board a helicopter died Wednesday
when it crashed in flames in an area often referred to as France's
answer to the Grand Canyon, officials say.
Francis Mene, a defense official, said the helicopter crashed
while carrying out a test flight in the Verdon Gorge in
Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in southeastern France.
All six were employees of aviation company Eurocopter. The
EADS-owned firm issued a statement confirming the aircraft involved
was manufactured by them, and was being delivered to a buyer.
They added that they were working on identifying the
circumstances and exact cause of the accident.
Laurence Fortini, the owner of a hotel in the village of
Aiguines, told The Associated Press by telephone that she rushed to
the hotel's terrace on hearing a "loud, abnormal sound," and then
saw the helicopter plunge into the river below.
"It crashed some hundred meters below on the river bank," and
firemen had told her it "got caught on an EDF (electricity)
cable," she said. Guests, who interrupted their dinner to watch
the drama, initially thought they saw someone jump from the
helicopter, she said, but it was part of the helicopter falling
"It touched the beach and exploded. It burned and burned. There
was huge black smoke," she said.
The rocky, limestone area - seen as France's answer to the Grand
Canyon - is one of Europe's most beautiful river canyons and
extremely popular with tourists and hikers. At 700 meters (2297
feet) deep, it is also one of Europe's biggest.
Eurocopter is yet to reveal the identities of those involved. It
says there was no one else onboard.