Tom Cruise Movie Producers Sued for Wrongful Death After Plane Crash

Mena Tom Cruise
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The family of a victim in the Colombia plane crash that occurred during production of “American Made,” originally titled “Mena,” starring Tom Cruise, has filed a wrongful death suit against Imagine Entertainment and other production companies. The suit claims that safety was compromised because flight operations were “rushed” to save money when the movie fell behind schedule.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday on behalf of the family of Carlos Berl, one of three victims in the crash. The twin engine Aerostar 600 plane took off near a jungle filming location on Sept. 11, 2015, and crashed about ten minutes after departure en route to Medellin. Jimmy Lee Garland, the pilot in command, was severely injured and a stunt pilot, Alan Purwin, was killed.

Berl was a student pilot on the flight, and was supposed to participate in transporting the aircraft back to the U.S. from Colombia, according to the lawsuit.

Mena Prods., Cross Creek Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Vendian Entertainment, Quadrant Pictures, helicopter pilot Frederic North, Garland and his company S&S Aviation, Purwin’s company Heliblack, and Kathryn Purwin, the executor of Purwin’s estate, are named as defendants.

Purwin’s estate sued the production companies in April. Berl’s estate was also named as a defendant in that lawsuit.

The suit claims that the defendants “unexpectedly directed” Berl to board the aircraft, but that he had repeatedly informed the defendants that he had insufficient flight experience and still required flight instruction and familiarization to safely pilot it.

“The terrain over which the Subject Aircraft would fly in order to reach Medillin was unsuitably difficult for such an instructional flight, especially one conducted in a rushed and unscheduled manner in an aircraft with limited flight data and weather instrumentation,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit contends that there was a rush make-up for delays in filming and to get back to Medellin from the jungle location. According to the lawsuit, a helicopter carrying Cruise traveled the same path through the Andes Mountains 10 minutes earlier and landed safely.

In the movie Cruise plays Barry Seal, the American pilot who worked for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar before he became a spy for the Drug Enforcement Agency.

A spokesman for Imagine Entertainment did not immediately return a request for comment.

Berl’s family is represented by Hodes, Milman & Liebeck; Gersowitz, Libo & Korek; and Kreindler & Kreindler.