HNA chairman Wang Jian dies in accident

A HNA Group logo is seen on the building of HNA Plaza in Beijing

Wang's death comes at a time when the company continues to grapple with high debt.

Chinese billionaire Wang Jian, of HNA Group, suffered serious injuries after a fall in Provence, France, on Tuesday.

It removes a key figure from the top of a sprawling business empire that owns China-based Hainan Airlines, as well as stakes in Deutsche Bank and Hilton hotels group.

Wang spearheaded the group's expansion in recent years, when it spent more $40 billion snapping up trophy assets and became the largest shareholder in global giants like Deutsche Bank AG and Hilton, according to people close to HNA. Subscribe to the Standard Group SMS service by texting "NEWS" to 22840.

"HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang's family and many friends", HNA said in a statement.

"He stood on the edge of a sharp drop to get his family to take a picture of him and fell", said Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Meriaux of the Vaucluse gendarmerie force, adding that Mr Wang fell 15m off a wall. It is unclear however if his wife commanded Wang to "get a bit further" while setting up the photo, or if the businessman made a decision to step on the edge of the drop in pursuit for "better" photo on his own.

HNA has been selling some assets as Chinese regulators tighten lending controls and press companies to rein in debt. "Attempts to assist have failed, and then he died on 3 Jul 2018 local time, at the age of 57 years".

Hong Kong-listed CWT, a Singaporean commodities and logistics group acquired by HNA in late 2017, fell as much as 7.4% during the day before closing down 5.6%.

He played a vital role in the company's rise from a regional, state-controlled company to an enormous conglomerate.

Wang (pictured) held a stake of about 15 per cent in the group and managed day-to-day operations.

His death complicates the troubled conglomerate's efforts to restructure and pay off borrowings and could increase pressure on HNA to reveal more about its oft-criticized opaque ownership.

Jian was a civil aviation official early in his career before helping to found Hainan Airlines in the early 1990s.

Speaking through their own interpreter, Mr Wang's travelling companions told police it had been an accident.

The financial concerns have been easing in the last few months after a flurry of asset sales, including its $US6 billion sale of Hilton Worldwide shares, helping many of HNA's bonds rebound from record lows.

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