On this day in 1982, Vic Morrow and two child actors, Renee Shinn Chen and Myca Dinh Le, are killed in an accident involving a helicopter during filming on the California set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Morrow, age 53, and the children, ages six and seven, were shooting a Vietnam War battle scene in which they were supposed to be running from a pursuing helicopter. Special-effects explosions on the set caused the pilot of the low-flying craft to lose control and crash into the three victims. The accident took place on the film’s last scheduled day of shooting.
Twilight Zone co-director John Landis (Blues Brothers, Trading Places, National Lampoon’s Animal House) and four other men working on the film, including the special-effects coordinator and the helicopter pilot, were charged with involuntary manslaughter. According to a 1987 New York Times report, it was the first time a film director faced criminal charges for events that occurred while making a movie. During the subsequent trial, the defense maintained the crash was an accident that could not have been predicted while the prosecution claimed Landis and his crew had been reckless and violated laws regarding child actors, including regulations about their working conditions and hours. Following the emotional 10-month trial, a jury acquitted all five defendants in 1987. The familes of the three victims filed lawsuits against Landis, Warner Brothers and Twilight Zone co-director and producer Steven Spielberg that were settled for undisclosed amounts.
Twilight Zone: The Movie was released in the summer of 1983. The film, which received mixed reviews, was based on a popular science fiction TV series of the same name that aired from 1959 to 1964 and was created by Rod Serling. In the movie, four directors– Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller–each adapted a different episode of the TV series, which chronicled the stories of people who found themselves in highly unusual situations.
Vic Morrow had previously appeared in numerous TV shows and such films as The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and The Bad News Bears (1976). He was the father of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Margot at the Wedding).