James Cameron on Filmmakers Killed in Helicopter Crash: ‘Both Were True Explorers’

James Cameron
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Oscar-winning director, who had worked closely with filmmakers Mike deGruy and Andrew Wight, issued a statement to THR in response to their sudden deaths Saturday in a helicopter crash in Australia.

Oscar-winning director James Cameron is reacting to the death of two filmmakers whose helicopter crashed Saturday on the south coast of Australia.

Mike deGruy, 60, of Santa Barbara, and Andrew Wight, 51, of Victoria, Australia, both of whom had worked closely with Cameron, were reportedly scouting locations for a documentary. DeGruy was a multiple BAFTA- and Emmy-award winner, and specialized in underwater cinematography. Wight wrote and produced last year's 3D film Sanctum, which was produced by Cameron and earned more than $100 million worldwide.

According to local reports, a shared love of diving led to the friendship between Wight and the director of Titanic and Avatar, and Wight had worked with Cameron on a variety of underwater-related films including Ghosts of the Abyss, Expedition Bismarck, Aliens of the Deep and Last Mysteries of the Titanic in the last decade.

Three weeks ago, Wight was named managing director of the Melbourne office of Cameron Pace, the first for Cameron’s 3D production business outside the US, which provides 3D equipment for film and television projects and live sports broadcasting.

Cameron issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday in response to the news of the crash:

“Mike and Andrew were like family to me. They were my deep-sea brothers, and both were true explorers, who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been. They died doing exactly what they loved most, heading out to sea on a new and personally challenging expedition, having fun in the way they defined it for themselves, which was hardship and toil to achieve something never done before. They were passionate storytellers who lived by the explorer’s code of humor, empathy, optimism, and courage. Their deaths are a tremendous loss for the world of underwater exploration, conservation, and filmmaking.”

Cameron went on to comment:

“Andrew was kind and loyal, full of life and a sense of fun, and above all, a careful planner who stressed safety to everyone on his team every single day. It is cruelly ironic that he died flying a helicopter, which was second nature to him like driving a car would be to most people.”

DeGruy, he said, was “one of the ocean’s warriors. A man who spoke for the wonders of the sea as a biologist, filmmaker and submersible pilot, and who spoke against those who would destroy the sea’s web of life. He was a warm, funny, extremely capable man and one of the world’s top underwater cinematographers. His passion for exploration and for the wonders beneath the sea was boundless.”

Reports indicate that at the time of the crash, Wight was working on a film with Cameron, and that he had been involved in developing the 3D technology used to make Avatar. The cause of the crash is being investigated by Australian aviation officials.

“We are grieving over the loss of these two extraordinary friends,” said Tim Kelly, President of National Geographic Society, in a statement. “Andrew and Mike were part of our extended family at National Geographic, and our hearts, prayers, and thoughts go out to their loved ones. They accomplished so much but were taken too early, and our world is greatly diminished by their leaving it.”

An Australian Adventurer of the Year medal winner, Wight produced more than 45 films since 1989, including television documentaries, live television specials, and 3D Imax films. He was a respected scuba and cave diving instructor, commercial helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, and cattle farmer. Wight was recently announced as the general manager of the Australian office of Cameron’s Cameron/Pace Group, where he was responsible for providing 3D cameras and production technology to Australian films and television.

DeGruy was an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and television host specializing in natural history and underwater programming in a career that spanned the world’s oceans and more than 30 years. His work as cinematographer, producer and host for such projects as Life in the Freezer, Trials of Life, Blue Planet, and Last Mysteries of the Titanic won multiple awards and reached global audiences with his infectious love for the oceans and the spirit of adventure. DeGruy founded the Santa Barbara, California-based production company The Film Crew Inc. in 1979.

DeGruy is survived by his wife Mimi, his son Max and his daughter Frances. Wight is survived by his wife Monica and his son Ted.