Lam Kok, 46, a billionaire from Hong Kong had just purchased a French vineyard and was flying over his new purchase in the previous owner’s helicopter with his 12-year-old son when it crashed into a river. Four people are feared to have been killed in the accident including Lam Kok and his son.
On Friday, the former owner of the chateau piloted the helicopter and was overflying the 65-hectare (160-acre) vineyard as the culmination of celebrations of the purchase of one of the region’s oldest wine estates.
The pilot of the helicopter was James Gregoire, who formerly owned the Chateau de la Riviere vineyard and the other passengers were Lam Kok, 46-year-old owner of the Hong Kong based company Brilliant, his son, 12, along with an interpreter.
Lam Kok’s wife had decided not to go on the flight as she was afraid of helicopters, according to a press photographer at the scene. The photographer went on to say that the pilot had carried out all the necessary pre-flight procedures prior to take off.
A media conference had been held prior to the former owner taking the buyer of his property on a tour of the vineyards and over the grounds surrounding the estate by air. When the helicopter failed to return after around 20 minutes, vineyard employees became concerned and contacted the local emergency services.
Following an extensive search operation, using inflatable boats, helicopters, rescue divers and 100 workers on foot, emergency officials discovered the wreckage of the crash in the Dordogne river, close by.
The workers pulled a still-unidentified body from the helicopter. Search operations continued to try and find the other occupants of the helicopter, but were called after just before midnight. The search was set to continue again on Saturday morning.
The vineyard has a rather bizarre history. In 2002 a previous owner apparently died in a plane crash. After this, in 2003, Gregoire purchased the property, and now, having sold it, the new owner appears to have suffered a similar fate.
The sale of the Chateau de la Riviere vineyard is said to be the biggest investment by Chinese businessmen in Bordeaux so far. According to Xavier Buffo, managing director of the vineyard, Brilliant, Lam Kok’s company based in Hong Kong, specializes in luxury hotels and specialized teas in China.
Buffo said that the company wished to convert the chateau on the property into a luxury center for wine and tea tasting. The group also plans to construct a hotel close to the vineyard.
In recent years, the wealthier Chinese have started developing a fancy for the best French wines. In fact, their great purchasing power has possibly caused prices of certain vintages to rise to record high levels. The same wealthy Chinese have recently also become involved in the purchase of vineyards.
Meanwhile the search continues for the three missing passengers of the helicopter crash over the French vineyard, including the Hong Kong billionaire and his son, and the dead body that has been found is yet to be identified.
By Anne Sewell