French President François Hollande expressed his “stupour” when the news was confirmed on Monday night and Valls tweeted his “immense sorrow” at the news, declaring that the whole country was in mourning and expressing his support for the families of the victims.
Champion sailor Florence Arthaud, Olympic bronze medalist boxer Alexis Vastine and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Camille Muffat and five production staff died, along with the two pilots, in the crash in Argentina’s La Rioja province in the foothills of the Andes.
The two helicopters collided over a football stadium in the Villa Castelli area shortly after taking off at about 5.30pm.
The wreckage was still on fire four hours after the accident.
French prosecutors opened a manslaughter probe Tuesday, an investigation systematically launched when a national dies abroad.
The athletes were taking part in a show called Dropped, to be screened by the TF1 channel in the summer, which involved teams being left in wild terrain without food, maps or compasses and charged with finding their way back to civilisation.
Forty people were involved in the production, which would have involved going to four continents.
- Florence Arthaud,57, was considered one of the world’s best sailors, despite the male domination of the sport, had won the Route du Rhum Atlantic crossing in 1990 and was one of the only people to have won the prestigious Prix Monique Berlioux twice.
- Camille Muffat, 25, won the 400-metres gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
- Alexis Vastine, 28, won a bronse medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.