Twelve people have now been killed in the last 10 days in southeastern France, which is reeling from two successive "Mediterranean episodes", the name given to extreme weather in the area including torrential rain, heavy flooding and high winds.
On December 2, 2019, the Civil Security Eurocopter EC145 helicopter, call sign "Dragon 30", had taken off from Marseille-Provence Airport (MRS/LFML) and was en route to Le-Luc-en-Provence, in the neighboring region of Var, to carry out a reconnaissance and rescue mission when radio and radar contacts were lost.
"While France is preparing today to pay tribute to 13 of its soldiers who died serving it (in Mali), our country is losing three everyday heroes who gave their lives to protect the French", Castaner and Nunez said in a joint statement.
Investigators are trying to determine the circumstances of the crash.
Sources close to the investigation said poor visibility caused by fog could have been a factor.
President Emmanuel Macron said in a message on Twitter that the whole country supported the rescuers' families and colleagues.
"They died while fighting for France, for the protection of the people in the Sahel, for the security of their fellow citizens and for the world's freedom - for all of us here", he said.
Since January, more than 1,500 civilians have been killed in jihadist violence in Mali and Burkina Faso, and more than one million people have been internally displaced across the five countries, the United Nations said this month. The rugged terrain made it hard to recover the bodies of the three people on board, a pilot, a flight engineer, and a rescue diver.
The administration for the Var region says two other people were killed in the storm, including a stable owner whose vehicle was swept away by floodwater as he tried to check on his horses.
The Var and the neighbouring Alpes-Maritimes region had been placed on weekend red alert for floods which disrupted train services and cut the A8 motorway for four hours Sunday evening.
Various social and sporting events were also ordered off due to the bad weather, including Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 competition at Monaco.