Cinematographer Mike deGruy and Australian film producer Andrew Wight were working on a documentary when the helicopter they were passengers in burst into flames shortly after take-off near Sydney.
A statement Cameron gave to The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday (05Feb12) reads, "Mike and Andrew were like family to me. They were my deep-sea brothers, and both were true explorers, who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been.
"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. They were passionate storytellers who lived by the explorer’s code of humor, empathy, optimism, and courage. Their deaths are a tremendous loss for the world of underwater exploration, conservation, and filmmaking."
Both men had worked closely with Cameron - Emmy Award winner DeGruy specialised in underwater cinematography, while Wight wrote and produced acclaimed 2011 3D film Sanctum, which was produced by Cameron.
The Avatar director adds, "Andrew was kind and loyal, full of life and a sense of fun, and above all, a careful planner who stressed safety to everyone on his team every single day. It is cruelly ironic that he died flying a helicopter, which was second nature to him like driving a car would be to most people.”