On July 23, 1982, Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were involved in an accident due to a number of issues that cost them their lives. We’ll get into that later. First off, I want to focus on a couple of the newspaper stories from that day and the following week:
Lancaster New Era
July 23, 1982.
Vic Morrow, Actor, Killed By Helicopter
‘Combat’ Star Hit by Blade During Filming
Actor Vic Morrow, the star of TV’s old “Combat” series, and two children were killed early today when a helicopter crashed during filming of a Vietnam War scene in an isolated desert park, authorities said.
The helicopter carrying a camera crew was hit by debris from simulated warfare and crashed into a set resembling a Vietnamese village where a four-part movie based on the old “Twilight Zone” television series was being filmed, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector DeWitt Morgan said.
Morrow, 51, and two children he was carrying in his arms died when the main rotor hit them, a county fire official said.
Five other people were injured, none seriously.
The two child-actors were identified as Renee Shinn Chen, 6, of Pasadena, and a 7-year-old Cerritos boy, My-Ca Dinh Lee, sheriff’s Deputy John Radeleff said.
Morrow was best know for his role as Army Sgt. Chip Saunders in the dramatic television series “Combat,” which ran from 1962-1966.
The blue-eyed blond typically portrayed an unshaven rough guy who talked through a grimace but showed a human side.
In ‘The Bad News Bears,’ he played the coach who won the league series against Walter Matthau’s rag-tag Bears, but lost the moral victory by slapping his pitcher.
The helicopter crashed about 2:30 a.m. at Indian Dunes Park, a privately owned park 40 miles north of Los Angeles where Warner Brothers studio was filming the movie.
“There was a river and a village along a bluff being involved in war,” Morgan said. “They were going to have a helicopter doing rockets or bombs, explosions and fireballs. The debris from one explosion hit the tail rotor and the helicopter landed in the river.”
Morgan said the three victims were struck by the helicopter’s main rotor as they were filmed running from the village in a closing scene. Morrow carried the children in his arms.
The injured included the pilot, Darcy Wingo of Rialto, 35, who was listed in fair condition with a cut hand and injured neck, camera operator Roger Smith of Canyon County, 46, in fair condition with leg and neck injuries, and two men in good condition with unspecified minor injuries, production manager Danny Ailingham, 37, of Los Angeles, and Randal Robinson, 35, of Seal Beach, said Fred Matthews, the Newhall Memorial Hospital spokesman…”
Muncie Evening Press
July 24, 1982
July 25, 1982
Sant Cruz Sentinel
July 26, 1982
July 27, 1982
Bangor Daily News
July 27, 1982
July 28, 1982
The Sacramento Bee
I could share newspaper clippings with you all day long, but I’m going to go ahead and jump forward with a basic rundown of what happened next. Both criminal and civil lawsuits were filed. These trials went on for years. In 1984, Chen’s mother testified about how filmmakers assured her the scene would not contain anything dangerous (this was corroborated by the other parents as well). I’m not going to go too deep into this with my own thoughts, but I could see Landis and co. using language barriers to their advantage in this. Also, the children were paid under the table and not members of SAG’s Extra Division–allowing Landis to skirt around child labor laws. Associate Producer George Folsey reportedly told the children’s parents to hide them from the firefighters and fire safety officer on the set.
In 1986, the criminal trial began. Landis, Folsey, Paul Stewart (special effects coordinator), Dan Allingham (production manager) and Dorcey Wingo were facing manslaughter charges. Cameraman Randall Robinson testified to Allingham telling Wingo to change course. Landis insisted Wingo “Get lower, get lower.”
On May 29, 1987, Landis and the other four men were acquitted in probably one of the grossest miscarriages of justice in American history. The San Bernadino County Sun dedicated a full page to the case that you can view below:
Landis behavior after the accident can only be described as egregious and disgusting. I implore you to read the entire Los Angeles Times article that covers how the trial participants behaved a year later by clicking here. If you choose not to, here are a couple highlights:
“…Roger Smith, who had been filming Morrow and the two children from aboard the helicopter… had nearly been killed when the aircraft plummeted into a shallow river; he suffered serious neck and back injuries. Attending Morrow’s memorial service a few days after the accident, Smith seethed as he listened to Landis deliver a vaunting eulogy for the actor. ‘Tragedy can strike in an instant,’ Landis declared, ‘but film is immortal. Vic lives forever. Just before the last take, Vic took me aside to thank me for the opportunity to play this role.’
Despite the recent silence, reports that Landis hosted a one-year ‘anniversary party’ for friends to celebrate the not-guilty verdict, and stories that he had also invited the jurors who acquitted him to a private screening of ‘Coming to America,’ thrust the ever-controversial director back into the news.”
To read my review of the actual film, please click here.