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US, Australian filmmakers die in helicopter crash

SYDNEY -- Award-winning American cinematographer Mike deGruy and Australian television writer-producer Andrew Wight have died in a helicopter crash in eastern Australia, their employer National Geographic said.

Police said two people -- an Australian pilot and an American passenger -- died Saturday when their helicopter crashed soon after takeoff from an airstrip near Nowra, 97 miles south of Sydney, but did not immediately release the victims' identities. Australia's ABC News reported that Wight was piloting the helicopter when it crashed.

National Geographic and "Titanic" director James Cameron confirmed the victims' identities in a joint statement Sunday that said "the deep-sea community lost two of its finest" with the deaths of the two underwater documentary specialists.

David Bennett, president of Australia's South Coast Recreational Flying Club, said the pair had set off to film a documentary when they crashed.

DeGruy, 60, of Santa Barbara, California, won multiple Emmy and British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA, awards for cinematography.

Wight, 52, of Melbourne, was the writer-producer of the 3D movie "Sanctum," which took in $100 million and was Australian cinema's biggest box office hit of 2010.

The joint statement said deGruy spent 30 years producing and directing documentary films about the ocean. An accomplished diver and submersible pilot who spent many hours filming deep beneath the sea, he was the director of undersea photography for Cameron's 2005 "Last Mysteries of the Titanic," the statement said.

"Mike and Andrew were like family to me," Cameron said. "They were my deep-sea brothers and both were true explorers who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been."

After spending three years at the University of Hawaii in a Marine Biology Ph.D. program, DeGruy moved to the Marshall Islands, according to his website. He spent three years there, working as the manager of the Mid-Pacific Marine Lab, with his knowledge of and fascination with the ocean growing rapidly.

DeGruy spent much of his early film career traveling the world, shooting films for clients including the BBC, PBS and National Geographic, his website says. He later began producing and hosting the films.