Andrew Wight [pictured], the producer of Sanctum and many adventure documentaries, and Mike deGruy, a specialist underwater cinematographer, died in a helicopter crash in Australia on Saturday.

Wight, an Australian, was the pilot of the Robinson R-44 that crashed about 100 kilometres south of Sydney, soon after taking off. DeGruy, from the US, was the only passenger.

The pair have been working on a project involving Avatar director James Cameron, who heralded them on the National Geographic website as his “deep-sea brothers” and “true explorers who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been”.

Wight joined Cameron’s Earthship Productions in 2001 and produced all his 3D IMAX films and television specials including Ghosts Of The Abyss, Expedition Bismarck, Aliens Of The Deep and Last Mysteries Of The Titanic, on which deGruy was director of undersea photography. David Attenborough’s The Life of Mammals is also among deGruy’s credits.

“They died doing exactly what they loved most, heading out to sea on a new and personally challenging expedition, having fun in the way they defined it for themselves, which was hardship and toil to achieve something never done before,” said Cameron. “They were passionate storytellers who lived by the explorer’s code of humour, empathy, optimism, and courage. Their deaths are a tremendous loss for the world of underwater exploration, conservation, and filmmaking.”

Cameron said flying was second nature to Wight, who was a careful planner and very safety conscious, making it “cruelly ironic” that he died in this way.

Wight did a lot of work on the development of the Cameron/Pace 3D camera system used on Avatar and on post-production techniques for large format 3D films. It was announced only three weeks ago that he would open a Melbourne office of Cameron/Pace.

He was relatively unknown in the Australian filmmaking community until he moved into theatrical features with Sanctum, which he produced and co-wrote. Released in 2011, it grossed US$100 million worldwide. The action thriller was inspired by an incident in 1988 when a party of divers including Wight were caught in flash floods in caves under Australia’s Nullabor Plain.

Wight has been working with Beneath Hill 60 producer Bill Leimbach on Singapore Sunset In 3D, an action/romance/drama set during the fall of Singapore.

“It is a great loss to his family, Monica and newly born Ted, but also to the film and television industry,” said Leimbach. “He was such a doer … and was way ahead of his time … Sanctum (was) Australia’s first 3D film. No one has achieved what he did, in both the diving and the deal. An international presale for the entire budget of a US$25 million dollar Australian movie? Who has ever done that before? And it was a bloody good film too, 3D in an underwater drama.”

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the accident.

DeGuy is survived by his wife, Mimi, son Max and daughter Frances.