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3 French Athletes Die In Helicopter Crash While Filming Reality TV Show

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next we have the story of a reality show that became all too real. It's a French reality show. And during recording of the show in Argentina, three French athletes were killed. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on who the athletes were and the debate their deaths has caused.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: President Francois Hollande says all of France mourns heroes who always pushed the limits. One was 25-year-old swimmer Camille Muffat, who competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: France embraced the shy champion, who won a gold, silver and bronze medal and a place in her countrymen's hearts. Also killed was 57-year-old Florence Arthaud.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLORENCE ARTHAUD: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I almost gave up. But I've never given up, so I knew I couldn't," she said after becoming the first woman to win a grueling transatlantic sailing race in 1990. Navigating alone from Brittany to Guadalupe, Arthaud became an inspiration to a generation of female athletes and earned the nickname Little Fiancee of the Atlantic. The two athletes, along with a young Olympic boxer, five production crew and two pilots, were killed when two helicopters collided during the filming of a new TV reality show called "Dropped" for the leading private French network, TF1.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DROPPED" TRAILER)

BEARDSLEY: In this trailer, the show boasts that it drops prominent athletes into some of the most hostile places on earth with no food and no map. The team that makes it out first wins. But along with the outpourings of grief are questions of whether such reality shows go too far for higher ratings. Jerome Caza runs 2P2L, a television production firm in Paris. He says the stakes for the networks are higher and higher.

JEROME CAZA: If your thing is to create a very dramatic story, what you do is you add danger to it. And it's, you know, even more dramatic. The competition is so high, so big, it's hard to control that.

BEARDSLEY: The same network, TF1, had a contestant die of a heart attack two years ago while filming the French version of "Survivor." The show's doctor committed suicide in response. The network took the series off the air for a while, but eventually it went back on the air with a slightly changed version. Jerome Caza.

CAZA: They blamed, when it happened - they say, oh, it's horrible what they're doing for TV. And they're ready to kill people just to make big ratings. I will not watch this show anymore, you know? Well, a few years later, you have still six, seven million people watching the same show.

BEARDSLEY: A team of French experts will arrive in Argentina today to help with the investigation of why the crash occurred on a sunny day with two experienced pilots. One thing is for sure, says Caza. French network TF1 will no longer produce reality television. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.