French billionaire Olivier Dassault, a politician and spy from the Dassault family of planes, was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
Dassault, 69, and a father of three, died around 6pm (1700 GMT) when his helicopter crashed near the exclusive coastal town of Deauville in northwestern France, parliamentary and investigative sources told AFP.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute and said in a tweet that “Olivier Dassault loved France. The industrial captain, local MP, reserve commander of the air force; in all his life he never stopped serving our country”.
Macron called his death “a great loss” and sent his condolences to the Dassault family, one of the most influential in France with interests spanning aviation, defense, auction, wine and media.
The Dassault Aviation Group has been a leading French aircraft manufacturer for the past 70 years and is behind Falcon’s private jets, the Mirage warplane, and most recently the state-of-the-art Rafale fighter.
Forbes estimates that Olivier Dassault is the 361st richest person on the planet by 2020, with a fortune estimated at about five billion euros (about 6 billion dollars) – about the same as his three siblings.
Involuntary investigation of murder
France’s national aviation accident investigation agency, BEA, said in a tweet that the crash occurred shortly after take-off from “private grounds”.
The weather in Deauville was sunny and windy on Sunday.
Sources close to the investigation indicated that the helicopter’s pilot was also killed and that no one else was on board.
An involuntary murder investigation was initiated by prosecutors.
The Civil Aviation Bureau of Investigations and Analysis said in a tweet that the helicopter, an Aerospatiale AS350 Ecureuil (squirrel), had crashed “at take-off”.
A search area around the crash site was closed and the air transport site was given responsibility for the investigation.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex hailed Dassault as “a humanist, a visionary entrepreneur, a man deeply committed to his country.”
Richard Ferrand, president of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament where Dassault acted as representative of the Oise region in northern France, said he was thinking of Dassault’s family and friends “who must be in terrible pain”.
Olivier was the grandson of Marcel Bloch, a famous flight engineer who changed his name to “Dassault” which means “on the attack” in French.
After helping to develop an innovative propeller used on French aircraft during World War I, Marcel was imprisoned during World War II and deported to a Nazi concentration camp after refusing to cooperate with Germany’s aviation industry.
Control of Dassault Aviation was transferred to Olivier’s father Serge, but he had not appointed an heir to succeed him when he died in 2018 after suffering heart failure at his Paris office.
Olivier once declared himself “the most qualified” of Sereg’s four children and received a stern reprimand from his father.
He seemed to be on the verge of taking the reins, but shortly before his father’s death he resigned as chairman of the group’s supervisory board because he said the role was incompatible with his parliamentary duties.
Many of Dassault’s colleagues on the political right paid tribute to a man who was also a passionate photographer, a pilot and a composer of music.
In addition to a majority stake in the family’s airline, Dassaults owns its own Bordeaux winery and the influential right-wing newspaper Le Figaro.