MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - Six employees of aircraft maker Eurocopter were killed when their helicopter crashed in a mountainous region of southeast France on Wednesday during a test flight, police and company officials said.
The crash occurred around 1:30 p.m. (0730 EDT) in a steep section of the Verdon Gorge in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region near the border with Italy, according to local police.
Police said a preliminary investigation suggested the helicopter may have hit an electric cable.
Eurocopter, a unit of European aerospace group EADS, said in a statement that the downed aircraft was a Cougar AS532 AL helicopter and that six people were on board.
It had taken off shortly before the crash from a heliport near the Mediterranean port city of Marseille for a test flight before delivery to a client.
The six people on board were company employees and included test engineers, a Eurocopter spokeswoman said.
Police said search teams were at the site investigating the cause of the crash.
"The accident occurred in a place that's very difficult to access, which is complicating our work," Benoit Gounine, a regional police lieutenant, told Reuters.
Eurocopter's website described the helicopter as a military aircraft that can accommodate 25 combat-ready troops or be used for search and rescue, medical evacuation or fire support missions, among other uses.
The Verdon Gorge is a stunning river canyon, popular with hikers, that runs up to 700 meters (2,300 feet) deep.
(Reporting by Francois Revilla in Marseille and Gerard Bon in Paris; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Louise Ireland)