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Tributes to helicopter crash pilots

Two British championship-winning pilots who died when their helicopter crashed in the south of France have been described as "larger than life" by their team manager.

Martin Rutty and Simon Lichtenstein died instantly when their helicopter plunged into the woodland in the French Alps.

Investigators are trying to identify the bodies formally, as tributes poured in from colleagues and friends.

British Helicopter Team manager David Monks said the men were two of the most popular and active members of Helicopter Club of Great Britain.

He said: "They were both extremely capable pilots and joined forces in 1999 to join the British Helicopter Team with Martin flying and Simon co-piloting their Robinson R22 helicopter.

"They went on to gather many competition accolades winning the British National Championship event on four occasions and were part of the British Team that won a bronze medal at the World Helicopter Championship in Eisenach in 2008. Not only have we lost two great competition pilots, we have lost two very dear friends who will be very sorely missed by all of us."

Mr Rutty, 50, from Little Hereford, and Mr Lichtenstein, 49, from Bircher, both in Herefordshire, came down in the densely wooded Tourrettes-sur-Loup valley on Thursday.

Nice's air transport police said the men would have died instantly.

Their injuries were so severe that it has not yet been established which of the two bodies is which, Captain Jean-Pierre Labourdenne said.

He said post-mortem examinations had been carried out, which found both died in the accident, but further DNA analysis must be carried out before each body is identified. The investigation into the crash is expected to take several months.

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