WASHINGTON (Feb. 5, 2012)—Two world-renowned filmmakers were killed in a helicopter crash in Australia on Saturday. Mike deGruy, a biologist and conservationist, and Andrew Wight, a pilot and underwater cave diver, were in Australia working with James Cameron and National Geographic on a documentary film.
James Cameron and National Geographic released this statement:
“The deep-sea community lost two of its finest yesterday when a helicopter carrying Andrew Wight and Mike deGruy crashed shortly after takeoff. Wight was the owner and pilot of the Robinson R-44 helicopter. Both men were world-renowned documentary filmmakers specializing in ocean exploration and conservation.
“Wight was piloting the Robinson R-44 helicopter as it took off from an airstrip in Jasper’s Brush, near Nowra, 80 miles south of Sydney, New South Wales police said in a statement.
“Andrew Wight, 52, was the documentary-producing partner of explorer-filmmaker James Cameron. After leading six deep ocean expeditions together, from which the films ‘Ghosts of the Abyss,’ ‘Aliens of the Deep,’ ‘Expedition: Bismarck,’ and ‘Last Mysteries of Titanic’ were made, the two recently co-produced Andrew’s first feature film, ‘Sanctum 3D.’
“Mike deGruy, 60, spent 30 years producing and directing documentary films about the ocean. An accomplished diver and sub pilot who spent many hours filming deep beneath the sea, he was the director of undersea photography for Cameron’s ‘Last Mysteries of the Titanic.'”
Reacting to the deaths of his colleagues today, Cameron said, “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 added, “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.”
“We are grieving over the loss of these two extraordinary friends,” said Tim Kelly, president of the National Geographic Society. “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 and Emmy nominee, Wight produced more than 45 films since 1989, including television documentaries, live television specials, and 3D Imax films. His journey to becoming a filmmaker began in agricultural science, working in scientific research and marketing. 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 Pace Group, responsible for providing 3D cameras and production technology to Australian films and television.
Mike 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.