Body in France crash site surprises police searching for Chinese billionaire Kok Lam

Police find body of person missing since April in same river where helicopter crashed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 December, 2013, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 December, 2013, 8:52am

French authorities have fished out a body from the Dordogne River, the site of a helicopter crash thought to have killed Chinese billionaire Kok Lam and a French winemaker – but the find was not what they expected.

Colonel Ghislain Rety, head of the gendarmerie, or police force, in the Gironde region, said the body was that of a person reported missing several months ago.

“A body was found on Saturday in the Dordogne. It was a person who had disappeared in the river in April,” Rety said on Monday, adding that the April accident had occurred about 30 kilometres from the site of the helicopter crash.

Efforts to find the remains of 46-year-old tea and property magnate Kok Lam, his interpreter and financial adviser, Peng Wang; as well as pilot and French entrepreneur James Gregoire are still ongoing after the helicopter fell into the river.

Only the body of Lam Kok’s 12-year-old son, Kok Shun Yu, has been recovered.

The group had been taking a celebratory aerial tour of a chateau estate that Kok had just bought from Gregoire. Kok’s wife, Liu Xiangyun, was meant to join them but declined at the last minute, saying she was afraid of helicopters.

On Monday, French police launched a delicate operation to lift the aircraft from a river bed to find clues. ”The aim is to preserve the wreckage in its current form, for small details that can explain why it crashed,” Rety said.

Watch: Police lift wrecked helicopter from river

Investigators also conducted a sonar search on Sunday night to scan for bodies in the Dordogne, a 430-kilometre-long river in the region of the same name, which runs from a mountain and flows into the Gironde River.

The search is focused on a 20-kilometre stretch along the river from where the chopper crashed.

The wreckage of the Robinson R44 helicopter, which is used by the police and army in several countries, was located early on Saturday in seven metres.

“Every lead is being followed – the weather, the rules, maintenance, the pilot’s qualifications and the characteristics of the flight,” said Philippe Mole of France’s air transport investigation department.

Kok and his wife head a Hong Kong company, Brilliant Group, which handled upmarket teas, luxury hotels, and the construction and management of shopping centres.

A day before the crash, they bought the Chateau de La Riviere and its 65-hectare vineyards for a reported ¤30 million (HK$318 million) with the aim of turning it into an elite tea- and wine-tasting retreat and plans to build a hotel nearby.

Gregoire himself had bought the property in 2003, a year after the previous owner died in a plane crash.