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article imageFigure skater Candeloro recounts horror of Argentina crash

By Alexandre PEYRILLE (AFP)     Mar 12, 2015 in World

French figure skater Philippe Candeloro was getting ready for his next adventure on the reality show "Dropped" when he heard a strange noise and realized something had gone wrong.

Candeloro, a two-time Olympic bronze medallist known for his bold style and trademark backflip, was one of eight French sports stars participating in the show, where contestants were taken blindfolded into the wilderness and given three days to reach a spot where they could charge a mobile phone.

Three of his fellow participants died Monday when the helicopters transporting them collided in the rugged mountains of Argentina's La Rioja province -- a tragedy that killed 10 people in all.

Speaking from the Argentine town of Villa Union, where the participants are waiting to testify in the inquiry before returning home, the 43-year-old retired skater told AFP about the moment of the crash, the helpless desperation at the scene and the question that has haunted him since.

Q: Where were you when you were told there had been an accident?

A: We weren't told -- we heard the crash of the two helicopters. I didn't see them collide. I was in the truck waiting for our turn. I saw the helicopters take off. They did a first loop and then they flew off. After a few seconds we heard a "clack," which obviously was when the helicopters collided, but not an explosion. At first we thought something happened to one of the helicopters. We quickly realized it was not one, but both helicopters that had fallen.

Q: What was your reaction?

A: We rushed to the scene of the accident and when we arrived, the helicopters were in flames. There was nothing we could do. We wanted to help them but we were powerless because of the fire. We didn't have water or a fire extinguisher. It was in the middle of the bush. Everything happened so fast. Our friends, especially the ones who were blindfolded, couldn't suffer. We hoped to find survivors, but we didn't.

Q: How are you managing in these days of mourning, but also with the investigation getting under way?

A: We have difficult moments. Waking up is also always hard. I wake up with the images of what I saw and heard at the scene racing through my mind, and that feeling of powerlessness. We have all made ourselves fully available to help the investigators.

Q: Do you think safety shortfalls are to blame?

A: It's hard to blame anyone for what happened. Security was a priority on this production. We could hardly get a scratch. One expedition was delayed six hours because the pilots said the conditions weren't optimal for flying. They weren't cowboys.... We're left asking ourselves, 'Why them and not us?' Us, them.... It's a tricky question.

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