A HELICOPTER crash at Jaspers Brush last February that killed Australian filmmaker Andrew Wight occurred because the pilot’s door was not closed properly when it took off, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found.
Wight, the writer-producer of the 3D film Sanctum and close friend of Titanic director James Cameron, was killed alongside American filmmaker Mike deGruy when their helicopter crashed and burst into flames at Jaspers Brush on February 4 last year.
Wight, 52, and deGruy, 60, had just taken off to film the launch of a deep sea submarine in nearby Jervis Bay when their helicopter nose-dived, crashed into the ground and burst into flames.
Wight was piloting the chopper when it crashed.
An ATSB report released on Friday revealed that soon after the Robinson R44 helicopter lifted off, the pilot’s door opened and the pilot, Wight, reached out to close the door.
“In attempting to shut the door the pilot probably let go of the cyclic control from the normal (right) control hand, allowing for an unintended, abrupt nose-up pitch and the helicopter tail hitting the ground,” the report found.
The helicopter then pitched nose-down and rolled to the right before the right landing gear skid and the main rotor blades struck the ground.
A fire erupted from the fuel tanks and engulfed the helicopter.
It was the fire, and not the impact of the crash, that killed both men, the report found.
“This accident highlights the importance of ensuring all doors are secured prior to take-off,” the report found.
“That said, the opening of a door in flight will not normally affect the operation of an R44, but the instinctive reaction to immediately deal with such an event can be quite strong.”
The ATSB advised pilots in a similar situation to continue flying with the door open or land to close the door.
Wight, an Australian Adventurer of the Year medal winner and Emmy nominee, was Cameron’s producing partner on such documentaries as Ghosts of the Abyss, Aliens of the Deep, Expedition: Bismarck, and Last Mysteries of Titanic.
He co-wrote and produced the 3D cave diving thriller Sanctum, which took more than $100 million around the world in 2011.
Cameron had just appointed Wight to head the Australian office of his 3D company when the crash occurred.
DeGruy was an American cinematographer who specialised in underwater filming.
At the time of the crash, Cameron said both men were world-renowned documentary filmmakers specialising in ocean exploration and conservation.
“Mike and Andrew were like family to me,” he said.
“They were my deep-sea brothers and both were true explorers, who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been.
“They died doing exactly what they loved most, heading out to sea on a new and personally challenging expedition.”
Cameron said Wight was so safety conscious that it was “cruelly ironic” he died piloting a helicopter.
The ATSB said that the R44 helicopter Wight was flying was fitted with an all-aluminium fuel tank.
Those tanks have been found to rupture and cause fuel-led fires in other recent fatal crashes, including one at Bulli Tops in March in which four retired CSIRO scientists died.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has since grounded all R44 helicopters that have not been re-fitted with a flexible, bladder-type fuel tank that improves resistance to post-accident fuel leaks, which can cause fires.