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Family of Santa Barbara Filmmaker Mike deGruy Files Wrongful-Death Lawsuit

Legal action seeks monetary and punitive damages from James Cameron's production companies as well as Robinson Helicopters over 2012 crash

The family of a Santa Barbara filmmaker who died last year in a helicopter crash has sued the pilot and production companies involved in James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge project.

Mike deGruy, a well-known undersea documentary filmmaker, was killed Feb. 4, 2012, along with pilot Andrew Wight, an Australian producer, on the way to a film shoot for the project.

DeGruy was 60 and was survived by his wife, Mary “Mimi” Armstrong deGruy, and children Maxwell and Frances.

His family is suing Wight’s estate, Great Wight Productions, Cameron’s three production companies — Lightstorm Entertainment, Earthship Productions and Cameron Pace Group — related to the DeepSea project and the Robinson Helicopter Company for wrongful death and survival claims.

Both men were working with Cameron and planned a 15-minute trip for filming in Australia near Nowra, 97 miles from Sydney. The project involved a 24-foot deep-diving submersible to reach the deepest point on Earth, and deGruy was on board to film parts of it.

The helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff, and the post-impact fire resulted in the death of both men.

Los Angeles-based attorneys for deGruy’s family allege that the helicopter company knew the risk of post-impact fire, and the production companies were negligent when they failed to properly vet the helicopter and pilot.

That day, the helicopter got 10 feet above the ground before Wight realized his side door was open, and he reached over to close it and lost control, the lawsuit alleges.

“In doing this, he lost control of the helicopter and it began to pitch up so that the tail skid contacted the ground, then pitched forward and to the right so that the main rotor blades struck the ground,” according to the lawsuit.

The fuel tanks ruptured and spilled fuel into the cabin and cockpit, and a fire started before the helicopter even came to rest on the ground, according to the lawsuit.

DeGruy was burned alive, despite attempts by bystanders to put out the fire, the lawsuit says.

The helicopter company knew the fuel tanks could rupture on impact, but made no attempts to correct or repair these defects, the suit alleges. The helicopter design posed a risk of fire even in the event of “an otherwise survivable crash, even one from a height of a mere 10 feet.”

A 2006 safety notice for this particular model mentions post-crash fires: “There have been a number of cases where helicopter or light plane occupants have survived an accident only to be severely burned by fire following the accident.”

The suit also names Wight, saying he operated the helicopter in a “careless and reckless” manner, and the production companies for failing to choose an airworthy helicopter and competent pilot.

DeGruy’s family wants a jury trial and is asking for monetary damages and punitive damages.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County by Kreindler & Kreindler LLP.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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