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Footage of the crash as it appeared in the movie


Movie Crash
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

July 11th, 1978



   In the movie, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, near the beginning of the movie, there is a real helicopter crash in an open field. As the helicopter is landing, it is quite obvious the tail rotor strikes the ground, rendering the copter uncontrollable.

   It rotates rapidly about 3 times before finally touching down and rolling over. The other actors in the scene, dressed as policemen responding to the tomato uprising, look back over their shoulder with a look of "What the hell was that!"

   Surprised by the sudden accident, director John DeBello moved quickly to pull the pilot and actors, Jack Riley and George Wilson, to safety. Thinking even more quickly, Riley suggested that Wilson and he crawl away from the flaming wreckage, while adlibbing appropriate lines.

   "I thought of the idea, too," confesses DeBello, "it's just that I didn't have the guts to say it."

   The result? A spectacular helicopter stunt that cost more than the rest of the $90,000 movie combined.


Now the mystery - where, and when did the real crash occur? 
What are the aircraft involved (Robinson R-22?). 

Since the movie was released in 1978, the crash had to of occurred that year or earlier.


According to a July 12th, 1978, Associated Press article:

"OCEANSIDE, Calif. (AP) - Production of a motion picture about giant nun-eating tomatoes has been temporarily halted after helicopter used in the filming crashed while trying to land in a tomato patch.

The pilot and two actors aboard received only minor injuries Tuesday while shooting scenes for "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes."

The actors were Jack Riley, 43, who played Mr. Carlin on the Bob Newhart television show, and George Wilson, 32, who was acting in his first film. Pilot Tom Watts escaped injury.

The $60,000 helicopter was attempting to land in the tomato patch when its tail section touched the ground, causing the  craft to overturn and burst into flames, officials said,

The film, to be released in October by Four Square Productions of San Diego, was described by spokesman David Hirsch as: a musical comedy horror story about growling hybrid tomatoes that, among other things, 'bubble up out of the ocean depths and eat swimmers.'"

The NTSB stated the probable cause of the crash was the pilot's misjudgment of the helicopter's speed and altitude during the power-on landing. The helicopter, a Hiller Aircraft UH-12E, tail number N81959, struck the ground tail-first, and rolled over - exploding into flames.

If you have any additional information or thoughts,- we'd love to hear from you.

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