A 51-year-old Australian film/TV writer-producer and a 60-year-old American cinematographer died in a helicopter crash shortly after takeoff on the New South Wales south coast today. Oz news reports describe Andrew Wight as James Cameron’s ‘right-hand man’ in Melbourne and was piloting the craft with Santa Barbara-based Mike deGruy aboard. Wight was writer-producer of the most successful Australian movie of 2011, the 3D film Sanctum executive produced by Cameron, as well as general manager of Cameron’s first 3D production company outside the U.S., the Melbourne-based Cameron Pace. DeGruy specialized in underwater cinematography and had won multiple BAFTA and Emmy awards for his camera artistry. Wight was a diver/explorer whose Sanctum screenplay took in $100M worldwide at the box office and was based on his own near-death experience in an underwater cave. The pair were believed scouting locations for an upcoming project together said to be a documentary about Papua, New Guinea.

One news report reported: “It was a shared love of diving that led to the friendship between Wight and Cameron, and in 2001 the Australian began working with Cameron’s Earthship Productions on a range of dive-related films – Ghosts of the Abyss, Expedition Bismarck, Aliens of the Deep and Last Mysteries of the Titanic – for IMAX and TV. Wight was also integrally involved in the development of the 3D technology Cameron deployed on Avatar. The cameras used on Sanctum were the very same as those used on Avatar. According to one friend of the Australian, Wight was ‘James Cameron’s right-hand man for years, and knew him intimately.'”

Four days before the crash Mr deGruy, who came from Santa Barbara, tweeted: “Been in Australia 2 weeks, one to go then off to PNG. Love this place – especially Sydney on Australia Day.” deGruy has “dived under the ice at both poles, been to all continents, become a submersible pilot, dived hundreds of times in many types of submersibles, filmed the hydrothermal vents in both the Atlantic and the Pacific and had more meals on the Titanic, now resting at 12,500 feet deep, than did the doomed passengers,” his website states.