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On July 23, 1982, a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter crashed at Indian Dunes[2] in Valencia, Santa Clarita, California, during the making of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The crash killed three people on the ground (actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen) and injured the six helicopter passengers. The incident led to years of civil and criminal action and was responsible for the introduction of new procedures and safety standards in the filmmaking industry.

Twilight Zone accident
Bell UH-1B Iroquois on airfield.jpg
A UH-1B similar to the accident helicopter
Accident
DateJuly 23, 1982
SummaryLoss of control after tail rotor failure caused by pyrotechnics
SiteIndian Dunes, Valencia, Santa Clarita, California
Coordinates: 34°25′59.8″N 118°36′15.6″W / 34.433278°N 118.604333°W / 34.433278; -118.604333
Total fatalities3 (on ground, including Vic Morrow)
Total injuries6
Aircraft
Aircraft typeBell UH-1B Iroquois
OperatorWestern Helicopters Inc.
RegistrationN87701[1]
Occupants6
Passengers5
Crew1
Fatalities0
Injuries6
Survivors6 (all onboard the helicopter)
Ground casualties
Ground fatalities3

Contents

BackgroundEdit

The film featured four sequences, one of which was based on the 1961 Twilight Zone episode "A Quality of Mercy". In the script, character Bill Connor (Morrow) is transported back in time to the midst of the Vietnam War, where he has become a Vietnamese man protecting two children from American troops.[3]

Director John Landis violated California's child labor laws by hiring seven year-old Myca Dinh Le and six year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen[4] without the required permits.[3] Landis and several other staff members were also responsible for a number of labor violations connected with other people involved in the accident, which came to light after the incident.[5][6]

Le and Chen were being paid under the table to circumvent California's child labor laws, which did not permit children to work at night. Landis opted not to seek a special waiver, either because he did not think that he would get permission for such a late hour or because he knew that he would not get approval to have young children in a scene with a large number of explosives. The casting agents were unaware that the children would be involved in the scene. Associate producer George Folsey Jr. told the children's parents not to tell any firefighters on the set that the children were part of the scene, and hid them from a fire safety officer who also worked as a welfare worker. A fire safety officer was concerned that the blasts would cause a crash, but he did not tell Landis of his concerns.[3][7] Morrow's friend and former Combat! co-star Dick Peabody wrote that Morrow's last words a few minutes before the accident were "I've got to be crazy to do this shot. I should've asked for a double."[8]

AccidentEdit

The filming location was the ranch Indian Dunes that was used through the 1980s in films and television shows, including The Color Purple, Escape From New York, MacGyver, and China Beach. The location was within the 30-mile zone, its wide-open area permitted more pyrotechnic effects, and it was possible to shoot night scenes without city lights visible in the background. Indian Dunes' 600 acres (2.4 km2) also featured a wide topography of green hills, dry desert, dense woods, and jungle-like riverbeds along the Santa Clara River which made it suitable to double for locations around the world, including Afghanistan, Myanmar, Brazil, and Vietnam.[2][9]

The night scene called for Morrow's character to carry the two children out of a deserted village and across a shallow river while being pursued by American soldiers in a hovering helicopter. The helicopter was piloted by Vietnam War veteran Dorcey Wingo.[10][11] During the filming, Wingo stationed his helicopter 25 feet (7.6 m) from the ground, while hovering near a large mortar effect; he then turned the aircraft 180 degrees to the left for the next camera shot.[12] The effect was detonated while the helicopter's tail-rotor was still above it, causing the rotor to fail and detach from the tail. The low-flying helicopter spun out of control. At the same time, Morrow dropped Chen into the water. He was reaching out to grab her when the helicopter fell on top of him and the two children. Morrow and Le were decapitated by the helicopter's main rotor blades, while Chen was crushed to death by the helicopter's right landing skid; all three died instantaneously.[5]

At the trial, the defense claimed that the explosions were detonated at the wrong time. Randall Robinson was an assistant cameraman on board the helicopter, and he testified that production manager Dan Allingham told Wingo, "That's too much. Let's get out of here," when the explosions were detonated, but Landis shouted over the radio: "Get lower... lower! Get over [lower]!" Robinson said that Wingo tried to leave the area, but that "we lost our control and regained it and then I could feel something let go and we began spinning around in circles."[13] Stephen Lydecker, also a camera operator on board, testified that Landis had earlier "shrugged off" warnings about the stunt with the comment "we may lose the helicopter."[14] Lydecker acknowledged that Landis might have been joking when he made the remark, but he said: "I learned not to take anything the man said as a joke. It was his attitude. He didn't have time for suggestions from anybody."[15]

InvestigationEdit

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had just instituted regulations in March of that year to define how aircraft were to be regulated during film and television productions. The new regulations, however, only covered fixed-wing aircraft and not helicopters. As a result of the fatal accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the terms be extended to apply to all types of aircraft.[16]

AftermathEdit

The accident led to civil and criminal action against the filmmakers which lasted nearly a decade. Le's father Daniel Lee testified that he heard Landis instructing the helicopter to fly lower.[17] All four parents testified that they were never told that there would be helicopters or explosives on set, and they had been reassured that there would be no danger, only noise.[18] Lee survived the Vietnam War and emigrated with his wife to the United States, and he was horrified when the explosions began on the Vietnamese village set, bringing back memories of the war.[19][20]

Landis, Folsey, Wingo, production manager Allingham, and explosives specialist Paul Stewart were tried and acquitted on charges of manslaughter in a nine-month trial in 1986 and 1987.[7][21] Morrow's family settled within a year;[22] the children's families collected millions of dollars from several civil lawsuits.[23]

As a result of the accident, second assistant director Andy House had his name removed from the credits and replaced with the pseudonym "Alan Smithee."[7] It was the first time that a director was charged due to a fatality on a set.[23][24] The trial was described as "long, controversial and bitterly divisive".[23]

Screen Actors Guild spokesman Mark Locher said at the conclusion of the trial: "The entire ordeal has shaken the industry from top to bottom."[24] Warner Bros. set up dedicated safety committees to establish acceptable standards "for every aspect of filmmaking, from gunfire to fixed-wing aircraft to smoke and pyrotechnics."[10][24] The standards are regularly issued as safety bulletins and published as the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) Safety Manual for Television & Feature Production. The IIPP manual is "a general outline of safe work practices to be used as a guideline for productions to provide a safe work environment" and is distributed to all studio employees.[10][25]

The Directors Guild of America's safety committee began publishing regular safety bulletins for its members and established a telephone hotline to "enable directors to get quick answers to safety questions."[24][26] The guild also began to discipline its members for violations of its safety procedures on sets, which it had not done prior to the crash.[24] The Screen Actors Guild introduced a 24-hour hotline and safety team for its members and "encouraged members to use the right of refusal guaranteed in contracts if they believe a scene is unsafe."[27] Filming accidents fell by 69.6-percent between 1982 and 1986, although there were still six deaths on sets.[24][27]

Landis spoke about the accident in a 1996 interview: "There was absolutely no good aspect about this whole story. The tragedy, which I think about every day, had an enormous impact on my career, from which it may possibly never recover."[23][27][28] Filmmaker Steven Spielberg co-produced the film with Landis, but he broke off their friendship following the accident.[11][29] Spielberg said that the crash "made me grow up a little more" and left everyone who worked on the movie "sick to the center of our souls".[30] He added: "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!'"[30]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "FAA Registry (N87701)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  2. ^ a b Arkush, Michael (November 9, 1990). "Hollywood Loses a Vietnam: Indian Dunes: TV and movie producers mourn the impending new role of the popular Valencia shooting location". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on June 18, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Noe, Denise. "The Twilight Zone Tragedy: Introduction". Crime Library. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  4. ^ Grave of Renee Shin-Yi Chen
  5. ^ a b Noe, Denise. "The Twilight Zone Tragedy: Out of the Twilight Zone". Crime Library. Archived from the original on March 2, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  6. ^ Murray, Robin L.; Heumann, Joseph K. Ecology and Popular Film: Cinema on the Edge. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780791477175.
  7. ^ a b c Farber, Stephen; Green, Marc (1988). Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case. Arbor House (Morrow).
  8. ^ Peabody, Dick. "In Harm's Way: Vic Morrow's death on the set of the Twilight Zone movie". jodavidsmeyer.com. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  9. ^ Puig, Claudia (February 17, 1987). "Twilight Zone' Site: Indian Dunes Remains a Star In All Its Guises". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Weintraub, Robert (July 26, 2012). "A New Dimension of Filmmaking". Slate. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Farber, Stephen; Green, Marc (August 28, 1988). "TRAPPED IN THE TWILIGHT ZONE: A Year After the Trial, Six Years After the Tragedy, the Participants Have Been Touched in Surprisingly Different Ways". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  12. ^ SAFETY RECOMMENDATION(S) A-84-16 (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. 1984. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  13. ^ "Pilot Voiced Fears, 'Zone' Coworker Says". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. January 6, 1987. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved December 23, 2013.  – via HighBeam (subscription required)
  14. ^ Special To The New York Times (January 8, 1987). "Warning on Accident on Film Set Described". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "'Twilight' Cameraman Lost Work". The Washington Post. Washington , D.C. January 8, 1987. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved December 23, 2013.  – via HighBeam (subscription required)
  16. ^ Aircraft Accident Report Western Helicopters, Inc. Bell UH-1B, N87701 Valencia, California, July 23, 1982 (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. 1982. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  17. ^ "Parents tell of deaths on set of movie". The Day, New London, Conn. AP. January 12, 1984. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  18. ^ "MOTHER RECOUNTS MOVIE-SET DEATHS". The New York Times. AP. January 11, 1984. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  19. ^ "Mom Breaks Down In 'Twilight' Trial". The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR. AP. January 12, 1984. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  20. ^ Farber, Stephen; Green, Marc (August 28, 1988). "TRAPPED IN THE TWILIGHT ZONE". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  21. ^ Feldman, Paul (May 29, 1987). "John Landis Not Guilty in 3 'Twilight Zone' Deaths: Jury Also Exonerates Four Others". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  22. ^ Noe, Denise. "The Twilight Zone Tragedy: Funerals and Blame". Crime Library. Archived from the original on March 10, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  23. ^ a b c d McBride, Joseph (2010). Steven Spielberg: A Biography. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. p. 344. ISBN 9781604738377.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Davis, Ivor (June 1, 1987). "Trial shakes film industry". The Times. London. p. 7.
  25. ^ "Injury and Illness Prevention Program". Warner Bros. 2013. Archived from the original on August 25, 2013. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  26. ^ Thompson, Anne (September 8, 1988). "Unseemly Hush Greets 'Twilight Zone' Book". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  27. ^ a b c Armstrong, Scott (June 1, 1987). "Filmmakers tackle safety issue". The Christian Science Monitor. Boston, MA. Retrieved October 31, 2013.
  28. ^ Andrews, Nigel (August 5, 1996). "Golden boy howls at the moon: John Landis was feted in Hollywood for his comedies – then it all changed". Financial Times. London. p. 11.
  29. ^ Kirchner, Lisa (January 19, 2012). "An Interview with Director John Landis". cineAWESOME!. Archived from the original on November 2, 2013. Retrieved October 31, 2013.
  30. ^ a b McBride, Joseph (2010). Steven Spielberg: A Biography. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. p. 350. ISBN 9781604738360.

Further readingEdit

  • Farber, Stephen; Green, Marc (June 1988). Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case. New York, NY: Arbor House/William Morrow. ISBN 9780877959489.
  • LaBrecque, Ron (1988). Special Effects: Disaster at 'Twilight Zone' The Tragedy and the Trial. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0684189437.
  • Chopper Down: Helicopter Deaths In The Movies (movie)