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Local News

Santa Barbara Filmmaker Mike deGruy Killed in Australia Helicopter Crash

Emmy Award-winning cinematographer was in New South Wales scouting locations for a documentary project

Santa Barbara cinematographer Mike deGruy died in a helicopter crash Friday in New South Wales, Australia.

According to KEYT, deGruy, 60, was in Australia to scout locations for an upcoming documentary project.

The Age newspaper in Melbourne reported that deGruy and the helicopter’s pilot, fellow filmmaker Andrew Wight, were killed when their aircraft crashed and burst into flames during takeoff near Nowra on the south coast of New South Wales. Local authorities said both men died at the scene.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

An accomplished diver and underwater cinematographer, DeGruy founded his aptly named production company, the Film Crew Inc., and traveled the world, making films for the BBC, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and PBS. On one of his voyages, he descended 12,500 feet in a submersible to the wreck of the RMS Titanic on the floor of the North Atlantic Ocean.

He earned Emmy Awards for cinematography in 2002, 1996 and 1989, and multiple British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards. Click here for a list of his film credits.

One of the films on which he worked was Deepwater Rising, which chronicled the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Friend and fellow Santa Barbaran Harry Rabin, CEO of On the Wave Productions and the documentary’s cinematographer, spent two months on location with him for the project.

“Today was one of the saddest days I can remember as I got word that my friend and co-conspirator in the art of film was tragically killed in a helicopter accident,” Rabin wrote Saturday on his blog, On the Wave Productions News.

“I can honestly think of only one or two people in my life who had a profound influence on me as a person as well on my passion for filmmaking. Working with Mike in the Gulf and other projects ... made for a fantastic adventure every time.

“Mike’s passion, his drive and that incredible smiling face and greeting to all he would meet — friend, foe and stranger — we’re admirable! ... You just couldn’t help but love the guy!”

DeGruy was a host and expedition member on Mysteries of the Shark Coast with Céline Cousteau and Richard Fitzpatrick. A shark attack survivor himself, deGruy was a regular on the Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week.

He frequently worked on film projects with his wife, Mimi, whom he met on an assignment, and they co-produced Deepwater Rising. The family has been a mainstay at Santa Barbara Middle School and deGruy also was active in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum counted deGruy as a longtime board member.

“Mike was an internationally respected figure who was widely considered as the best in the business,” Steve Epstein, the museum’s board president, told Noozhawk on Saturday. “The Maritime Museum will not be the same without him and his creative energy.”

DeGruy was a popular speaker at the 2010 and 2011 TEDxAmericanRiviera events in Santa Barbara.

“We are saddened by the news that ocean photographer, filmmaker and storyteller Mike deGruy died yesterday in a helicopter crash in Australia,” the TED Blog posted Saturday afternoon.

“Mike was truly one of the great teachers and advocates for the oceans.”

DeGruy was born on Dec. 29, 1951, in Mobile, Ala., attended prep school at the then-Sewanee Military Academy in Sewanee, Tenn., earned a marine zoology degree from North Carolina State University and a master’s in marine biology from the University of Hawaii.

In a story recounted on deGruy’s Web site, he and a fellow marine biologist were diving on remote Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1978 when they were brutally attacked by a grey reef shark that ripped off the top of his right arm. Somehow, both men — bleeding profusely in shark-infested waters — made it back to their boat and they eventually reached safety. The attack left deGruy with only partial use of his right hand.

Rabin said deGruy was quick to laugh and he had an irrepressible spirit.

“Two words that Mike always, always used,” he said, “be it the end of a meeting, the end of the work day, the end of play — was the best farewell: ‘SEE YA!’ Always an open end, a welcome back.

“That’s right, Mike. I’ll always SEE YA!”

Friday’s other crash victim, Wight, 51, of Melbourne, was reported to be an experienced helicopter pilot. He wrote and produced the 2011 3D film, Sanctum, and had recently been named the head of Australia-based Cameron Pace, Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron’s first international 3D production office.

DeGruy is survived by his wife and their two teenage children, Max and Frances. Funeral services are pending.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

(TEDxAmericanRiviera video)

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