British couple kiled in air crash

A British pilot and his stuntwoman wife have died after their small plane crashed into a mountain near the French Riviera.

James and Jacqueline Balmer - who went by the stage name Jacquie de Creed and became famous for her spectacular car stunts - are understood to have set off from Italy and were making their way towards Troyes, some 100 miles south east of Paris, when they were killed.

The wreckage of their light aircraft was discovered on Friday on Mont Agel, between the port of Menton and the principality of Monaco.

According to local reports, the couple from Cirencester, in Gloucestershire, took off in a twin engine Piper PA-39 shortly after 10am but lost all radar contact at 11.28am.

The stricken six-seater plane was found near the villages of Peille and Gorbo at around 3.40pm after authorities launched an extensive four-hour sea and air rescue operation. This involved an aeroplane, several helicopters, a lifeboat and a navy minesweeper.

A high mountain patrol was dispatched and the bodies of Mr Balmer, 68, and his wife, 54, were transported to the nearby city of Nice.

Local reports suggested that fog, which blanketed the region yesterday morning, may have forced the aircraft to travel at a low level before it crash-landed on private property at an altitude 814 metres.

It had earlier been spotted flying at "very low altitude", according to one news outlet.

Mrs Balmer had earned herself a reputation as a stunt woman and went by the name of Jacquie de Creed.

According to her website she rose to fame in 1983 when she jumped a car "further than any man or woman in history", breaking the long distance car ramp jump record.

"She drove a car up a ramp at a staggering 140mph clearing 232ft 1in. In a specially prepared 1969 Ford Mustang," the website claims.

In a short biography, it is said she was one of only a few people in Britain who could drive a car on its side, balanced on two wheels.

She had written a book with her friend and former stunt partner Dick Sheppard called Close to the Edge, which detailed her daredevil career.

Her risky career saw her perform on a Guinness Book of Records television programme and, according to her book, she survived "probably the most spectacular car crash ever filmed from which the female driver lived to tell the tale".

Clips on YouTube appear to show the stuntwoman smiling as she emerges from the wreck of a car following a dramatic crash.

According to local newspaper reports, the mother-of-two - who appeared on numerous television shows, made commercials for Bovril and Heinz and is said to have given driving lessons to a host of television presenters - retired in 2005 and became a teacher of speech and drama.

Mr Balmer is understood to have run R Scott & Co menswear shop in Cirencester.

A shop worker said employees did not wish to comment on his death.

A family friend, who gave her name as Rachel, said the Balmers' relatives were out of the country and did not wish to comment at this time.

A spokesman for the Nice-Montagne police said an investigation had been launched into the cause of the crash.

"The couple were found during the afternoon following the plane crash on Mont Agel," he said.

"At present we do not know what caused the accident. Investigations are ongoing."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We can confirm the deaths of two British nationals following a plane crash in the south of France.

"Next of kin have been informed and we are providing consular assistance."

Lynn Hilditch, 63, who lives near the large detached house the couple owned, described them as friendly people who were well known in the local area.

Mrs Balmer gave talks to members of the community about her work as a stuntwoman, while Mr Balmer's shop was a long-running family business that was something of a local institution, she said.

"It's going to be a real shock to the shop people because it's a very old-fashioned shop that's been run so beautifully for years," she said.

"He was a lovely guy. I think people spoke very highly of him.

"They were friendly people."

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