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Obituary

French billionaire MP Olivier Dassault killed in helicopter crash

Dassault was grandson of famed French Jewish aeronautical engineer Marcel Bloch who survived being sent to Buchenwald death camp for refusing to help the Nazis

French Member of Parliament Olivier Dassault smiles as he arrives  as he arrives for an official diner with the French President Francois Hollande and Defense Minister and Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
French Member of Parliament Olivier Dassault smiles as he arrives as he arrives for an official diner with the French President Francois Hollande and Defense Minister and Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

PARIS — French billionaire Olivier Dassault, a politician and scion of the Dassault aircraft-making family, was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Dassault, 69 and a father-of-three, died around 6 pm (1700 GMT) when his helicopter crashed near the upmarket coastal resort of Deauville in northwest France, parliamentary and investigation sources told AFP.

French President Emmanuel Macron led tributes, saying in a tweet that “Olivier Dassault loved France. Captain of industry, local MP, reserve commander in the air force; throughout 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 aeronautics, defense, auctioneering, wine and the media.

The Dassault Aviation group has been a leading French plane manufacturer for the last 70 years and is behind the Falcon private jet, the Mirage warplane, and most recently the state-of-the-art Rafale fighter.

In this file photo taken on February 22, 1977, Olivier Dassault (L), grandson of Marcel Dassault, poses after the flight of the 100th Falcon 10 (Mystère 10) aircraft. – Olivier Dassault has died in the crash of his helicopter near Deauville, a parlamentiary source said on March 7, 2021. (Photo by – / AFP)

Forbes magazine estimated that Olivier Dassault was the 361st most wealthy person on the planet in 2020, with a fortune estimated at around five billion euros ($6 billion) — around the same as his three siblings.

Famed family

Olivier was the grandson of Marcel Bloch, a famed Jewish aeronautical engineer who changed his name to “Dassault” which means “on the attack” in French and converted to Roman Catholicism.

After helping to develop an innovative propeller used on French aircraft in World War I, Marcel was imprisoned during World War II and deported to the Nazi  Buchenwald death camp after refusing to collaborate with Germany’s aviation industry.

Control of Dassault Aviation passed to Olivier’s father Serge, but he had not named an heir to succeed him when he died in 2018 after suffering heart failure at his Paris office.

In this file photo taken on November 5, 1975, Marcel Dassault (L), chairman of French aerospace group Dassault Aviation and his son Serge Dassault give a press conference in Paris. (AFP Photo)

Olivier once declared himself “the most qualified” of Serge’s four children, earning a stern public rebuke from his father.

He appeared to be on track to take 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.

As well as a majority stake in the family’s aviation group, the Dassaults own their own vineyard in Bordeaux and the influential right-wing newspaper Le Figaro.

Involuntary manslaughter inquiry

France’s national air crash investigation agency, the BEA, said in a tweet that the crash had occurred shortly after take-off from “private grounds.”

The weather in Deauville was sunny with low wind on Sunday.

Sources close to the inquiry indicated that the pilot of the helicopter was also killed and that no-one else was on board.

In this file photo taken on June 11, 1997 Serge Dassault (R), Dassault Group CEO, poses with his son Olivier Dassault in front of a Rafale M01 jet fighter in Le Bourget, near Paris. – Olivier Dassault has died in the crash of his helicopter near Deauville, a parlamentiary source said on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

An involuntary manslaughter investigation was opened by prosecutors.

The civil aviation Bureau of Investigations and Analysis said in a tweet that the helicopter, an Aerospatiale AS350 Ecureuil (Squirrel), had crashed “on take-off.”

A search area around the crash site was sealed off and the air transport place put in charge of the inquiry.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex hailed Dassault as “a humanist MP, a visionary entrepreneur, a man deeply committed to his country.”

Richard Ferrand, president of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament in which Dassault served as a representative for the Oise area of northern France, said he was thinking of Dassault’s family and friends “who must feel terrible pain.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

 

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