Andrew Wight, the Australian producer of Sanctum and many underwater documentaries, was killed on Saturday when the Robinson R-44 helicopter he was piloting crashed soon after taking off from Jaspers Brush, between Nowra and Berry in New South Wales.
Underwater cinematographer Mike deGruy, the only passenger, also died. His many credits include David Attenborough's The Life of Mammals.
The pair were working with National Geographic and Avatar and Titanic director James Cameron, who sought out Wight's expertise for the documentaries Ghosts of the Abyss, Expedition Bismarck, Aliens of the Deep and Last Mysteries of the Titanic, on which deGruy was director of undersea photography.
"Mike and Andrew were like family to me,” Cameron says on the National Geographic website. "They were my deep-sea brothers, and both were true explorers who did extraordinary things and went places no human beings 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 humour, empathy, optimism, and courage. Their deaths are a tremendous loss for the world of underwater exploration, conservation, and filmmaking.
“Wight 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.”
Wight had been working for a year with Beneath Hill 60 producer Bill Leimbach and executive producer Mandaley Perkins on Singapore Sunset in 3D, an action/romance/drama set during the fall of Singapore.
“It is a great loss to his family, Monica and newly born Ted, but also to the film and television industry,” said Leimbach. “He was such a doer, he did so many years of the Quest television series for Beyond, and was way ahead of his time.”
Leimbach emphasised that no-one has achieved what Wight did in Australia in terms of both diving and the financing behind Sanctum.
It was Wight's idea to make Sanctum, which he co-wrote and produced. The 3D action thriller about an underground caving expedition that goes badly wrong was sparked by an incident drawn from Wight's own life: years earlier, he and a dozen others were caught in a flash flood in caves under the Nullabor.
Wight, who lived on a rural property near Albury, was relatively unknown in Australia until he produced Sanctum. The film grossed $100 million worldwide last year.
About three weeks ago it was announced that a Melbourne office of the Cameron Pace Group was to be opened. Wight was going to manage the business, which provides 3D cameras and production technology.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau are investigating the accident.