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Painful wait for French stars, crew stranded in Argentina

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The surviving cast and crew of the ill-fated reality show "Dropped" wander aimlessly around their hotel, waiting to testify on the accident that killed their friends and colleagues, then return home to France.

The hotel, the Picas Negras, is a star attraction in Villa Union, a small town at the edge of Route 76 in Argentina's remote, mountainous northwest.

Its restaurant, currently closed to the public, is considered one of the best in the region.

That is where Olympic champion swimmer Alain Bernard, figure skater Philippe Candeloro, cyclist Jeannie Longo and snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer, as well as two dozen production crew members, cross paths at mealtimes.

They kill time as best they can the rest of the day, glued to their phones -- their only contact with their distraught families -- and giving the occasional interview to journalists at the back of the hotel.

None are very keen to talk about the twin helicopter crash that killed Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, renowned sailor Florence Arthaud and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine, as well as five French TV crew members and two Argentine pilots.

Or about the helpless feeling of watching the two helicopters burn on the stark scrubland outside the nearby town of Villa Castelli after colliding in mid-air.

Former Olympic champion Philippe Candeloro talks with AFP at the hotel where the remaining French at...
Former Olympic champion Philippe Candeloro talks with AFP at the hotel where the remaining French athletes and crew of the "Dropped" reality show are staying in, in Villa Union, in La Rioja province, Argentina, March 11, 2015
Juan Mabromata, AFP/File

The judge assigned to the case, Daniel Herrera, began questioning the French nationals Thursday and said they could return home in the next 48 hours.

Bernard told AFP he felt like he was living "a bad dream."

"I just want to testify in the inquiry and go home. And go visit Camille's parents," he said.

Figure skater Philippe Candeloro said: "We're left asking ourselves, 'Why them and not us?'"

- Grieve and wait -

Julien Magne, program director at Adventure Line Productions, said the cast and crew were "at the disposal of the (Argentine) justice system" for the inquiry.

Until then, they grieve and wait.

"We're in mourning. We lost friends who we'd worked with for 15 years in some cases," Magne said.

His voice breaks as he remembers Lucie Mei-Dalby, a journalist and mother of two killed in the crash.

Outside, police guard the hotel and TV trucks stand by. The French consul and Judge Herrera come and go.

Investigators set up a tent on March 12  2015 to examine parts of one of the two helicopters that cr...
Investigators set up a tent on March 12, 2015 to examine parts of one of the two helicopters that crashed on March 9 in Villa Castelli, in La Rioja province, northern Argentina
Juan Mabromata, AFP

Inside, three French psychologists who flew in Wednesday night are available for counseling.

Nestled between the Famatina mountains and the foothills of the Andes, the two-storey hotel melts into the surrounding landscape, its ochre walls matching the color of the earth in this far-flung region of La Rioja province.

Villa Union is a base camp for adventure tourism in the province, one of the poorest in Argentina.

Here, wealthy foreigners pay up to $800 a day to jump off cliff faces with hang gliders, trek through the rugged terrain or go on off-road adventures in 4x4s.

It is a world apart from the lives of ordinary locals in an area where the average monthly salary is $533.

Since the crash, the cast and crew of "Dropped" have seen little of La Rioja but the hotel.

Across Route 76, local Natalia Diaz is absorbed by the scene.

"I never saw so many French people all at once," she said.

The surviving cast and crew of the ill-fated reality show “Dropped” wander aimlessly around their hotel, waiting to testify on the accident that killed their friends and colleagues, then return home to France.

The hotel, the Picas Negras, is a star attraction in Villa Union, a small town at the edge of Route 76 in Argentina’s remote, mountainous northwest.

Its restaurant, currently closed to the public, is considered one of the best in the region.

That is where Olympic champion swimmer Alain Bernard, figure skater Philippe Candeloro, cyclist Jeannie Longo and snowboarder Anne-Flore Marxer, as well as two dozen production crew members, cross paths at mealtimes.

They kill time as best they can the rest of the day, glued to their phones — their only contact with their distraught families — and giving the occasional interview to journalists at the back of the hotel.

None are very keen to talk about the twin helicopter crash that killed Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, renowned sailor Florence Arthaud and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine, as well as five French TV crew members and two Argentine pilots.

Or about the helpless feeling of watching the two helicopters burn on the stark scrubland outside the nearby town of Villa Castelli after colliding in mid-air.

Former Olympic champion Philippe Candeloro talks with AFP at the hotel where the remaining French at...
Former Olympic champion Philippe Candeloro talks with AFP at the hotel where the remaining French athletes and crew of the “Dropped” reality show are staying in, in Villa Union, in La Rioja province, Argentina, March 11, 2015
Juan Mabromata, AFP/File

The judge assigned to the case, Daniel Herrera, began questioning the French nationals Thursday and said they could return home in the next 48 hours.

Bernard told AFP he felt like he was living “a bad dream.”

“I just want to testify in the inquiry and go home. And go visit Camille’s parents,” he said.

Figure skater Philippe Candeloro said: “We’re left asking ourselves, ‘Why them and not us?’”

– Grieve and wait –

Julien Magne, program director at Adventure Line Productions, said the cast and crew were “at the disposal of the (Argentine) justice system” for the inquiry.

Until then, they grieve and wait.

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“We’re in mourning. We lost friends who we’d worked with for 15 years in some cases,” Magne said.

His voice breaks as he remembers Lucie Mei-Dalby, a journalist and mother of two killed in the crash.

Outside, police guard the hotel and TV trucks stand by. The French consul and Judge Herrera come and go.

Investigators set up a tent on March 12  2015 to examine parts of one of the two helicopters that cr...
Investigators set up a tent on March 12, 2015 to examine parts of one of the two helicopters that crashed on March 9 in Villa Castelli, in La Rioja province, northern Argentina
Juan Mabromata, AFP

Inside, three French psychologists who flew in Wednesday night are available for counseling.

Nestled between the Famatina mountains and the foothills of the Andes, the two-storey hotel melts into the surrounding landscape, its ochre walls matching the color of the earth in this far-flung region of La Rioja province.

Villa Union is a base camp for adventure tourism in the province, one of the poorest in Argentina.

Here, wealthy foreigners pay up to $800 a day to jump off cliff faces with hang gliders, trek through the rugged terrain or go on off-road adventures in 4x4s.

It is a world apart from the lives of ordinary locals in an area where the average monthly salary is $533.

Since the crash, the cast and crew of “Dropped” have seen little of La Rioja but the hotel.

Across Route 76, local Natalia Diaz is absorbed by the scene.

“I never saw so many French people all at once,” she said.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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