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Copter Crashes in Film Chase : Stuntman Killed, Pilot Hurt on TV’s ‘Airwolf’ Set

Times Staff Writers

A helicopter being used in filming of the television series “Airwolf” crashed and burned on a hillside near Newhall on Friday, killing a stuntman and injuring the pilot, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said.

The crash occurred without warning as the Bell 205 helicopter was making its third pass through a canyon, flying within 200 feet of the ground, as part of a chase scene involving another helicopter, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Dick Stirling said.

Dead at the scene was 22-year-old stuntman Reid Rondell, the lone passenger in the helicopter. Officials said they could not immediately determine whether Rondell died as a result of the crash, or in the fire that engulfed the craft shortly after rescuers pulled pilot Scott Maher, 46, from the wreckage.

Maher was in fair condition at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where a spokeswoman said he was being treated for a concussion and numerous bruises.

The crash occurred in gently rolling terrain about 25 miles north of Los Angeles. The site is several miles from the area where actor Vic Morrow, 53, and two child actors were killed in July, 1982, when a helicopter being used in filming the movie “Twilight Zone” crashed.

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“Airwolf,” an hourlong, action-oriented CBS series, stars Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine as pilots of a high-tech helicopter on secret missions for an unnamed government agency. The helicopter featured in the show was on the ground at the time of the crash.

People on the set Friday, who asked not to be identified, said Rondell was doubling for Vincent.

The crash area was sealed off to the news media by officials of Newhall Land & Farming Co., which leased the site to Sun Oil Co., which in turn rented the site to Universal Studios and Belisarius Productions Inc., co-producers of “Airwolf.”

Stirling said eyewitnesses to the crash could provide no immediate clue as to what caused the helicopter to hit the hillside. He said that Maher had made two passes through the same canyon just before the crash.

There were two helicopters involved in the chase scene, but Stirling said he could not determine whether the crashed helicopter, which was chasing the other craft, was carrying a camera, and it was not clear whether actual filming was under way at the time of the accident. He said the scene’s stunt had been approved by county fire officials.

Relatives of several crew members rushed to the site to learn the identity of the victims after hearing media reports of the crash.

Ray Holt, a still photographer employed by the show, said crew members were “very upset, especially because there had never been an accident on the ‘Airwolf’ set.”

Ben Halprin, vice president of Universal Televison, said production of “Airwolf” will continue as scheduled and expressed his sympathy for the families of the crash victims.

Considered Among Best

Rondell was one of the youngest stunt coordinators and considered among the best in his field, said David Ellis, a fellow stuntman and a member of the committee which advises studios on the saftey aspects of all stunts.

Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board officials were at the scene within hours, but had no immediate comment.

The Bell 205 is a civilian version of the “Huey” choppers used in the Vietnam War. The show’s featured helicopter is a twin-engined Bell 222 that has been heavily modified to carry make-believe guns and rocket pods.

Lawsuit Settled Universal and Belisarius Productions, which together also co-produce the “Magnum, P.I.” series, Monday announced settlement of a lawsuit stemming from a fatal helicopter crash that occurred during filming of that series in Hawaii in 1980.

Universal attorney David McGovern said Friday the firm agreed to pay $610,000 to the widow of camera technician Robert Vanderkar, who was killed when the craft in which he was a passenger crashed into the ocean.

Times staff writer Jay Sharbutt also contributed to this article.


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