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Chinese billionaire feared dead in French helicopter crash

Chinese billionaire Lam Kok and vineyard owner James Grégoire celebrating the sale on 20 December.
Chinese billionaire Lam Kok and vineyard owner James Grégoire celebrating the sale on 20 December. AFP/Mehdi Fedouach

A Chinese billionaire and his 12-year old son are among four people feared dead when their helicopter crashed into a river near a French vineyard he had just bought.

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Lam Kok, the 46-year old head of the Hong Kong-based Brilliant group, which specialises in luxury teas and hotels, had just bought the Château de La Rivière vineyard in Bordeaux and was surveying the 65-hectare property on Friday when the accident happened.

The helicopter was flown by James Grégoire, the vineyard’s former owner, and was carrying the buyer, his son and an interpreter.

Emergency workers pulled a body from inside the helicopter after finding the wreckage in the Dordogne River. It is believed to be that of the 12-year old boy.

Officials resumed the search on Saturday morning to find the three remaining occupants. However, the search has been hampered by the river’s fast-moving current
and turbid water.

It is unclear what caused the accident, which came after a festive day marking the sale of the vineyard, said to be the largest Chinese investment in Bordeaux to date.

On Friday, after a press conference, an introduction to the staff and dinner, the former owner was planning to take his buyer on a short tour of the vineyards and surrounding grounds.

When they did not return after 20 minutes, employees at the vineyard contacted emergency services.

A major search operation was launched using emergency helicopters, inflatable boats, rescue divers and around 100 officers on foot. Emergency workers managed to locate the wreckage in the river after police received a call from a witness who had seen the helicopter go down.

Lam Kok’s wife pulled out of the visit, saying she was afraid of helicopters.

In a bizarre twist of fate, a previous owner of the Chateau de la Riviere was killed in a plane crash in 2002.

Gregoire bought the property, the largest in Bordeaux's Fronsac wine-producing region, the following year.

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