Last Sunday Feb 5, I got a text message telling me that Mike deGruy was killed in a helicopter accident in Australia. It’s been a while since I’ve cried this fast and hard. Surely this was a mistake. I read it again- one sentence. I thought again- no, it must be another Mike. But my tears had already manifested what my brain and heart did not want to accept.
I was sitting on the bed with my 2 week old son in my arms when I read the news. The power of this contrast could not be more vivid- an inevitable circle of life and death. But this did not feel right. The mention of the pilot, whose name was not mentioned in the article that night, also being killed in this accident had me thinking of Andrew Wight right away. He was Mike’s close friend, flew a helicopter, lived in Australia, and was a scriptwriter/producer so also in the filmmaking world. But I did not want to accept that it was a possibility both of them had been there. I wrote Andrew an email that night, perhaps to confirm it was not him.
But the next morning I rushed to the computer and read the reality- both Mike deGruy and Andrew Wight were gone. Once more my face was strewn with tears. My first thoughts were of their families, their wives and children especially. Having just brought my own child into this world, the understanding of that incredibly deep bond and love is very much intense and present.
In 2008 I worked with Mike on a documentary for Discovery Channel, “Mysteries of the Shark Coast” shot in Australia. We co-hosted this show with Sanjayan, scientist with The Nature Conservancy. It was actually Mike who encouraged me to join this production and introduced me to the producers when he and I first met in person at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. The filmmaking world, especially when it comes to underwater productions, is a small family so though I had not met him before this time, we all knew each other.
While we were in Australia filming, we had a bit of down time and Mike invited me to join him when he went to visit his friend Andrew. The best way to get to his family ranch was to have Andrew pick us up in his helicopter. So there we were- hanging out 4 days with some of the nicest people I’ve met. These two guys were fast and furious friends- sharing a complicity one sees with true kindred spirits. Andrew’s gentle and generous nature made for a relaxed weekend- off we went on horseback, his sister Fiona and I took off on the quad while the two “boys” played with remote helicopters, I took picture of wallabies and we spent endless hours chatting. What incredibly fun memories.
Every now and then we would all exchange emails and I would see Mike at an event or other. When I found out Andrew was getting married I was thrilled he had found that person who saw all this good in him and when he shared the news of his son Ted’s birth, you could feel the papa pride radiating. He deserved all this happiness. Mike was the same when he spoke about his children Frances and Max. While in Australia he made sure to dedicate some time finding them something to let them know he thought of them when he was away from home. We found a guitar for Max and he gushed with pride when he mentioned how they would mess around with instruments together.
Mike’s love for his work, his passion for the sea, and his contagious enthusiasm made him a great colleague in the field. Always encouraging, ready for anything, alert and professional. But what remains and always will be there, is his smile and laugh. This was Mike’s window to his being- the projection of his personality. Andrew’s kind heart and his gentled disposition stand out in my mind, without forgetting his firm support for my own film ideas. He was a true, real spirit.
I like to think of the two of them with their remote helicopters playing in the big field behind Andrew’s house or maybe they’re on a grand cave diving exploration together, dreaming up creative scenarios for the next production. Either way, their contagious positive energy will live on- in their children, their friends, in their work, and through their undying spirit that will not vanish just because they are gone. Each of us owes it to them to keep that spirit alive. They would have liked that.
When my son Félix was born I sent both Mike and Andrew an email announcement and a few days later, on January 25, I received their replies. Mike’s words would never ring more true…”take a day, take a month…take a year, you will never see life the same.” Andrew’s email said: “Enjoy every moment, the start of a new life is such an amazing thing and they grow so quickly.” I’m holding on to these words…and I’m taking them to heart!
You are both already greatly missed.