The deceased were identified as American Alan D. Purwin and South American Carlos Berl. Sole survivor Jimmy Lee Garland, a metro Atlanta-based flight instructor who served as Cruise’s flying double, sustained severe injuries to his legs, arms, face and chest, and was hospitalized at Medellin’s Pablo Tobón Uribe Hospital in critical but stable condition, according to local fire and aviation personnel.
After a day of filming, the three experienced pilots had taken off from Santa Fe de Antioquia and were returning to the city of Medellin on a twin-engine Piper-Aerostar 600 when their plane crashed into the Alto de la Clarita mountain in the Colombian Andes. The cause of the crash is still under investigation. CNN reported there were foggy and cloudy conditions at the time. Local aviation officials described the 10-minute route as having sharp ascents and descents, requiring the pilot to fly from near sea level to a height of 3000 meters in order to clear the Andes, then descending sharply for the approach into Medellin.
Purwin was a veteran Hollywood stunt pilot and aerial photographer who worked on several major films including Transformers, Pearl Harbor and Pirates of the Caribbean. He was founder and president of California-based Helinet, a company providing aviation services to motion picture, news, charter, medical and government agencies.
Cruise, himself a trained pilot, was not on the Aerostar. However, just 10 minutes before the crash, the actor had flown separately in a helicopter along the same flight path. Cruise stars in the Doug Liman film about American pilot Barry Seal, a drug runner turned DEA informant in the 1980s recruited to help capture cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Mena, which had been filming in Colombia since late August, also stars Jesse Plemons, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright and Caleb Landry Jones.
Mena was the first international production to take advantage of film incentives offered by Medellin, which offers cash rebates of up to 15%.
A Universal spokesman said in a statement, “An aircraft carrying crew members crashed while returning to Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport in Medellin following production wrap on the film Mena, resulting in two fatalities. Further details are not available at this time. On behalf of the production, our hearts and prayers go out to the crew members and their families at this difficult time.”