4 Fatal Helicopter Accidents That Happened During Movie Shoots
There have been a shockingly large amount of deaths while shooting films – the worst of which took place during the medium’s formative years, before laws and standards were established to any significant degree, such as 1928’s Noah’s Ark, during which 600,000 gallons of water created a flood that drowned three people and caused countless serious injuries. You just couldn’t do that these days. Helicopters, however, have a far more recent history of cock-ups – and it’s an extensive list of cock-ups. Here, we’ve compiled the four we found most interesting but the list easily could have gone into double digits.
#4. Kolilakkam – Helicopter Crashes Into Ground, Killing Film Star Jayan
Amassing a body of work that included 124 acting roles, Jayan is one of the biggest stars that Malayalam Indian cinema has ever produced and in his time, was the most commercially bankable. He spearheaded a movement of action focussed films, continually besting himself with crazier and crazier stunts. Big explosions, sprawling set pieces, wacky fight scenes, and acts of insane masculine bravery. Jayan was the Schwarzenegger of Malayalam cinema – except he didn’t use a stunt double.
Some of his most daring feats include jumping onto a train moving at full speed in Puthiya Velicham, swimming against the current of Hogennakal Falls in Aaversham, and highly arbitrary Steve Irwin-esque tussles with animals, such as bears, elephants, and crocodiles pretty much any time a film was deemed to need a nonsensical adrenaline shot – which was often.
Jayan’s last stunt was for a film called Kolilakkam (AKA Shockwave). It required him to stand on the backseat of a speeding motorbike and latch onto the landing skids (bottom metal bar bits) of a mid-air helicopter. From there, a highly unconvincing battle between Jayan and the film’s antagonist, played by perennial bad guy Balan K. Nair took place – during which, at any point, Nair could have easily put the boots to the off-balance star and claimed victory in the name of evil. Somehow, Jayan manages to toss him from the chopper. The guy battles bears and elephants. It doesn’t have to make sense.
The scene was shot without incident. However, Jayan was unhappy with the footage and insisted on another take. This time, the helicopter lost control and crashed into the ground, fatally injuring the dangling Jayan. Nair escaped with a broken leg.
Footage of the scene, which was left in the film, can be seen here. It cuts off moments before the helicopter crashes into the ground.
#3. Hands of Steel – Helicopter Collides with Navajo Bridge
Produced by Italian filmmakers, and partly shot in Italy, the film is also known as Vendetta Dal Futuro. It was released two years after the original Terminator film, and its influence can be seen throughout.
The plot concerns a cyborg, being hunted down a crew of nasty bastards. The main character is 70% robot, 30% human. This plot point means that the film’s star, Daniel Greene, playing the futuristically named Paco Queruak, attempts to emote 30% of the time and is facially and tonally frozen 70% of the time, resulting in a performance that is 100% B-movie awesome (i.e. shit).
One of the film’s nasty bastards is played by Claudio Casinelli, who, while positioned in a helicopter, wielding a machine gun, attempts to stuff Queruak full of bullets. The resulting footage is quite gorgeous, albeit slightly long-winded, shot in the Arizona desert, culminating in a showdown over the steel arch Navajo Bridge, which crosses over the Colorado River. Both Casinelli and the helicopter’s pilot died attempting to fly under the bridge, when a blade snagged the structure, causing them to plummet out of the sky and into the river.
Eyewitnesses stated that a sudden gust of wind had caused the helicopter to collide with the bridge and that the pilot was seemingly distracted, observing the film crew’s position and deciding on the best place to land.
Casinelli’s body was not recovered until a day later, due to strong river currents. He was still strapped into his seat. The pilot’s body was swept away.
#2. Insee Thong – Mitr Chaibancha Falls from Helicopter’s Ladder
Mitr Chaibancha was a huge star in Thailand, making 266 films in 14 years, right up to his death while filming Insee Thong (Golden Eagle) in 1970. He was, as always, the leading man – playing a masked vigilante, similar to Batman. He also directed the film and produced it, meaning that as far as safety went, if he said it was safe, it was fucking safe.
The plot of the film is pretty wacky, involving a hypnotist, who trained at the same school of hypnotism as Rasputin, who can enter a Buddha statue that is then transported to his enemies. They are so startled by his appearance in the statue that they die immediately of heart attacks. Meanwhile, a detective goes deep undercover as a transvestite, to infiltrate a gang of transvestite criminals. It’s so bad it’s good.
Chaibancha was killed filming the last shot of the film. Having rescued the damsel in distress, Chaibancha is supposed to escape, holding onto a helicopter’s rope ladder. This was shot in one continuous take, without a stunt double. Chaibancha, who had failed to lift his legs onto the ladder before it took off, was left dangling in mid-air, using solely his upper body strength to hang onto one of the ladder’s rungs.
Chaibancha managed to hold on for an impressively long time. Eventually, unavoidably, his arms could take no more and he fell to his death. The original theatrical release of the film left footage of Chaibancha’s plunge in, but it’s been removed from later releases, replaced with a still image taken moments before the accident, and explanatory text. The omission becomes kind of baffling when you consider that one of the extras included in the DVD release is the famed actor’s cremation. Not for the squeamish.
#1. Twilight Zone: The Movie – Helicopter Crashes Into Vic Morrow and Two Children
Twilight Zone: The Movie is shot in anthology form, with each of the film’s four parts feeling as if it’s a more lavishly shot 20-minute episode of the TV show. Each section also has a different director at the helm, the first of which was the responsibility of John Landis. It was during the shooting of this first part that the most notorious helicopter accident in the history of cinema occurred.
Entitled Time Out, the story concerns a bitter racist, played by Vic Morrow, who after drunkenly exiting a bar, finds himself transported into racially charged settings, in the bodies of those victimised. Firstly, he is believed to be Jewish by a pair of SS officers in Nazi occupied France, secondly a black man, being chased by the KKK, and thirdly, a Vietnamese man, accompanied by two children, being chased by American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
The scene in which the accident took place involves Morrow’s character having a change of heart, deciding to save the children (played by Myca Dinh Le, 7, and Renée Chen, 6) from the surrounding carnage, scooping them up in his arms and running away from various explosions and a helicopter.
Landis, determined to get the best shot possible, instructed the helicopter to get dangerously close to Morrow and the two children. Moments before its crash, it was hovering a mere 25 feet above the actors, allowing debris from the explosions to collide with its tail. This caused the pilot to lose control. The helicopter twisted into the ground, crushing Chen. Its blades decapitated Morrow and Le.
Landis stood trial for involuntary manslaughter and was eventually found not guilty. The incident soured his friendship with Spielberg, who directed the section of the film entitled Kick the Can. In a rare statement about the incident, Spielberg’s quoted as saying,
“No movie is worth dying for. I think people are standing up much more now than ever before to producers and directors who ask too much. If something isn’t safe, it’s the right and responsibility of every actor or crew member to yell, ‘Cut!'”
Footage of the accident can be seen here.