UPDATE 1-Six dead in helicopter crash in French Alps-police

Wed Jul 25, 2012 1:36pm EDT

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(Updates death toll to six, adds detail, changes dateline)

MARSEILLE, France, July 25 (Reuters) - Six employees of aircraft maker Eurocopter w ere killed when their helicopter crashed in a mountainous region of southeast France on Wednesday during a test flight, police and company officials sa i d.

The crash occurred around 1:30 p.m. (1130 GMT) 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 metres (2,300 feet) deep. (Reporting by Francois Revilla in Marseille and Gerard Bon in Paris; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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