The chairman of the Fortune 500 company "accidentally fell" and attempts to rescue him "were ineffective," the company said. He helped grow the firm from a provincial airliner into one of China's largest conglomerates.
Chinese conglomerate HNA group on Wednesday said that Wang Jian, the firm's chairman and co-founder, died during a business trip in the south of France.
Wang "accidentally fell causing serious injury, and attempts to rescue him were ineffective," the firm said in a statement.
"Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him."
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The firm did not provide details on how he died. However, broadcaster France Bleu reported on Tuesday that a man fitting Wang's description had fallen more than 10 meters (33 feet) to his death while attempting to take a photo from a wall.
Local police officer Hubert Meriaux also said that "witness accounts point to a likely accident" in the case: "He stood on the edge of a sharp drop to get his family to take a picture of him and fell." However, Meriaux stressed that an autopsy was still pending.
Evolution of a Chinese company
Wang co-founded the firm in 1993 as a small provincial airline serving the Chinese province of Hainan. Since then, it has transformed into a Fortune 500 company, operating China's four-largest airline and acquiring a 25-percent stake in Hilton Worldwide chain of hotels.
Last year, Beijing set its sight on HNA during a crackdown on risky financing, which had long fueled expansion for Chinese companies. The company has since sold off parts of its vast empire in aviation, tourism and financial services to manage its debt.
HNA Group controls an 8.8 percent stake in Deutsche Bank. The company was listed 170 on Fortune 500 Global list in 2017 with $53.3 billion (€62 billion) in revenue.
ls/msh (AP, AFP)