Mike DeGruy, the internationally respected and unanimously liked documentarian of underwater nature films who called Santa Barbara home, died today in a helicopter crash in Australia just before 4 p.m. local time. He had just turned 60 years old at the end of December, and leaves behind his wife and two children.
In charge of curating the “Reel Nature” sidebar of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for the past decade, DeGruy was missing his first film fest in nine years, according to his Twitter page (twitter.com/mvdegruy). He was in Australia to work on his next project, and was slated to continue working sometime next week in Papau New Guinea. The crash, which also killed a pilot from Melbourne, occurred near the town of Nowra on the New South Wales coast, according to an article in The Age. [UPDATE: According to an associate who emailed the newspaper, the pilot’s name was Andrew Wight, a longtime production partner of director James Cameron. See his considerable credits here.] It happened during take-off, but the cause is still under investigation. Read that full report here.
Roger Durling, the executive director of the film festival, called DeGruy “one of my best friends” said he was “heartbroken” by the news. “The Santa Barbara Film Festival has lost one of our family members: Mike DeGruy, underwater filmmaker and curator of the Reel Nature series and the force behind Field Trip to the movies,” said Durling. “Our thoughts are with his wife Mimi and his children. His enthusiasm and sense of adventure inspired all of us at SBIFF. Knowing him well, he would have wanted us to carry on today enjoying and celebrating movies.”
You can read more about Mike DeGruy’s extraordinary life here.
There will be a memorial service in his memory on Sunday, February 12, 3:30 p.m. in the rotunda of Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort on Cabrillo Boulevard in Santa Barbara.