French billionaire Olivier Dassault, a politician and scion of the family behind aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. He was 69.
Dassault, a father of three, died when his helicopter crashed near the upmarket coastal resort of Deauville in north-western France, according to parliamentary and security officials.
French President Emmanuel Macron led the tributes.
“Olivier Dassault loved France. Captain of industry, local MP, reserve commander in the air force; throughout his life he never stopped serving our country,” said Mr Macron in a tweet.
Mr Macron called his death “a great loss” and sent his condolences to the Dassault family, one of the most influential in France with interests in aeronautics, defence, auctioneering and the media.
The Dassault Aviation group has been a leading French plane manufacturer over the past 70 years and is behind the Falcon private jet, the Mirage warplane and, most recently, the state-of-the art Rafale fighter jet.
Forbes magazine estimated that Dassault was No 361 on the list of the world's richest people last year, with a fortune of about €5 billion ($6bn) – about the same as his three siblings.
The BEA, France’s national air crash investigation agency, said in a tweet that the crash occurred shortly after take-off from “private grounds”. The weather in Deauville was sunny with low wind on Sunday.
Officials indicated that the pilot of the helicopter was also killed and that no one else was on board.
An involuntary manslaughter investigation was opened by prosecutors.
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”.
Dassault was the grandson of Marcel Bloch, a famed aeronautical engineer who changed his name to “Dassault”, which means to be “on the attack” in French.
After helping to develop an innovative propeller used on French aircraft in the First World War, Marcel was jailed during the Second World War and sent to a Nazi concentration camp after refusing to collaborate with Germany’s aviation industry.
Control of Dassault Aviation passed to his son Serge who died in 2018 after suffering heart failure at his Paris office. He had not named an heir to succeed him.
Dassault 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 resigned as chairman of the group’s supervisory board shortly before his father’s death 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 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 right-wing newspaper Le Figaro.