The chairman and co-founder of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group has died following an accident during a business trip in France, the company confirmed on Wednesday.


Wang Jian, aged 57, suffered 'severe injuries' in a 15 metre- (49 foot-) fall in Provence in southern France on Tuesday, according to the police.


Mr Wang, who had a net worth of US$1.7 billion (£1.3 billion) according to Forbes, was one of the key players in HNA's aggressive expansion from a regional company to the massive conglomerate it is today.


HNA is the owner of Hainan Airlines, China's fourth-largest airline and the largest private airline in China. Mr Wang held 15 per cent of the group's shares.


'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.


Witnesses described him falling from a small wall while travelling in the hilltop village of Bonnieux in Provence, according to Financial Times.


Mr Wang graduated from the Civil Aviation University of China and received an MBA from the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands, according to his company.


Launched in 1993 on the southern island of Hainan, HNA expanded into finance, hotels, logistics and other businesses in a multibillion-dollar global acquisition spree in recent years.