msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/5/2012 5:45:13 AM ET 2012-02-05T10:45:13

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 Sunday.

Police said an Australian helicopter pilot and his American passenger died at the scene Saturday when they crashed soon after takeoff from an airstrip near Nowra, 97 miles (156 kilometers) north of Sydney. Police did not immediately release the victims' identities.

National Geographic and director James Cameron confirmed the victims' identities in a joint statement 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, had 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 submarine pilot who spent many hours filming deep beneath the sea, he was the director of undersea photography for Cameron's "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."

In a news report on its own Web site, National Geographic said DeGruy is survived by his wife, Mimi, his son, Max, and his daughter, Frances while Wight is survived by his wife, Monica, and his son, Ted.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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