French Army helicopters involved in fatal collision
French police have confirmed five people were killed on 2 February after two of the country's army training helicopters crashed into each other near a lake in southern France.
The incident is one of the deadliest such accidents involving the French armed forces in recent years.
The collision took place at around 7:30 am GMT near the lake of Carces, about 50 kms northwest of the resort of Saint-Tropez.
Police in the nearby town of Brignoles said: ‘The helicopters collided. There were three army personnel in one and two in the other. All are dead.’
The cause of the collision is still unclear.
All the people on board were officers, a source close to the inquiry said.
Jean-Luc Videlaine, prefect of the Var region, said: ‘One of the helicopters broke up and crashed onto a road, the second crashed about 150 to 200 metres away and burned.’
The Gazelle helicopters from the army's light aviation division were based at a flight school in Cannet-des-Maures.
Two police helicopters were still searching the crash scene shortly after midday, while rescue services had blocked access to a forest road near the lake, according to an AFP journalist.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly, who was en route to the site and the training base, expressed ‘great sadness’ in a Twitter post, while President Emmanuel Macron hailed the ‘commitment of these officers who were preparing themselves for future missions.’
The French-made Gazelle helicopters entered service in the 1970s, and are used for reconnaissance and light attacks as well as training.
The aircraft were part of the French Army's EALAT light-aircraft training school.
More than two dozen Gazelles are stationed in Cannet des Maures, along with Fennec and Puma choppers.
Jean-Pierre Veran, a local councillor, said helicopters ‘regularly’ fly over the zone and there had never been an accident, calling it a ‘terrible shock’ with debris spread over a large area.
Jean-Pierre Bosser, the chief-of-staff of the French Army, expressed his ‘solidarity with the family and friends of the victims, as well as their comrades’ at the training facility.
The last major aviation accident involving the security forces in France took place in May 2016, when a police helicopter crashed near Cauterets in the Pyrenees mountains, killing four on board.
An investigation later determined it was caused by pilot error.