Thirteen French soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided during an operation against jihadists in Mali, the French president’s office said.
Monday’s accident is the worst loss of life for the French military in decades.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “deep sadness” over the incident. An investigation has begun.
In 2013, France deployed thousands of troops to Mali after Islamist militants seized huge parts of the north.
Mali’s army has since recaptured the territory but insecurity there continues and the violence has spread to other countries in the region.
France now has 4,500 troops deployed to support the forces of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad against Islamist militants.
The exact circumstances of Monday’s incident are unclear but defence ministry sources told the AFP news agency a Tiger attack helicopter collided with a Cougar military transport.
Among the dead are six officers and a master corporal.
“These 13 heroes had only one goal: to protect us,” President Macron wrote in a tweet. “I bow to the pain of their loved ones and comrades.”
Another French soldier, Brigadier Ronan Pointeau, was killed earlier this month after an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
In total 38 French soldiers have been killed in Mali since the country first intervened.
The helicopter collision is the highest death toll for the French army since 1983, when 58 paratroopers stationed in Lebanon were killed in a truck bomb attack.