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2 members of Tom Cruise movie crew die in plane crash in Colombia

People look at the wreckage of a Piper PA-60 Aerostar twin-engine aircraft that crashed near San Pedro de los Milagros, east of Medellin, Colombia. The plane's three occupants were making a movie starring Tom Cruise. Two died.

People look at the wreckage of a Piper PA-60 Aerostar twin-engine aircraft that crashed near San Pedro de los Milagros, east of Medellin, Colombia. The plane’s three occupants were making a movie starring Tom Cruise. Two died.

(Raul Arboleda / AFP/Getty Images)

Two U.S. citizens working on a movie starring Tom Cruise were killed in the crash of a small aircraft outside Medellin, Colombia, the U.S. embassy said Sunday.

The embassy statement did not identify the victims of the accident, which occurred Friday afternoon, but local news reports and Hollywood associates identified them as veteran Hollywood pilot Alan Purwin and cameraman Carlos Berl.

Although referred to in the embassy statement as a U.S. citizen, Berl was also described variously in news reports as being Venezuelan or Colombian.

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A third occupant of the twin-engine aircraft, identified as Jimmy Lee Garland, survived the crash and was said to be in critical but stable condition at a Medellin hospital. According to Semana magazine, Garland was acting as Cruise’s double in the filming.

The occupants had finished filming aerial shots in northwestern Antioquia province for the movie, titled “Mena,” and were returning to Medellin, the film’s production base, when the aircraft crashed in poor weather at around 3:30 p.m. local time, local officials said.

Wreckage was found in the San Pedro de los Milagros township, according to El Tiempo newspaper.

The aircraft was scheduled to land at the Olaya Herrera airport near downtown Medellin, which is considered one of the more dangerous in South America. Because Medillin is surrounded by mountains, the airport requires a sharp descent for landing.

Most national and international flights into Medellin land at Jose Maria Cordova airport, which is located on a savanna about 25 miles southeast of the city.

Cruise arrived in Medellin in August to begin filming the movie, based on the life of Barry Seal, an American who was a pilot for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in the 1980s and who acted as a U.S. informant. Seal was killed in 1986 in Louisiana by hit men apparently sent by Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel.

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Purwin, 53, who worked both as a fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter pilot, headed a company called Helinet and performed aerial stunts for a number of Hollywood films, including “Pearl Harbor,” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” His company also performed pro bono medical evacuation services in Southern California.

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Actor Ben Stiller, who worked with Purwin on the 2008 movie “Tropic Thunder,” posted a message on Twitter saying he was “shocked about the loss of #AlanPurwin. One of the best people I knew and the greatest pilots ever. I put my life in his hands many times.”

Cruise, an experienced pilot, had flown the twin-engine aircraft into Medellin last month but was assisted by a Colombian copilot on the advice of aviation officials here, according to the Associated Press.

Kraul is a special correspondent.

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