Rapid City native dies in chopper crash
Rapid City Journal
February 12, 2013
• Mary Garrigan Journal staff
Jeri Rydstrom of Rapid City got a call Saturday night from her cameraman son in Los Angeles wishing her a happy birthday and telling her he was excited to be on his way to a nighttime helicopter shoot.
"He was working on a reality TV show on how a Navy SEAL survives in adverse conditions," Rydstrom said of her son, Darren.
It would be the final time they spoke. Darren Rydstom, 46, died early Sunday morning when the helicopter he was working from crashed in the pre-dawn hours in a rugged canyon in Southern California.
Rydstrom, a graduate of Rapid City Stevens High School, was killed along with the pilot and a former U.S. Army Special Forces member who were in the helicopter. They were filming a reality TV show for the Discovery Channel.
The helicopter crashed at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday at the popular filming location of Polsa Rosa Ranch in the city of Acton, authorities said. Coroner's spokesman Ed Winter identified the victims Monday as David Gene Gibbs, 59, of Valencia, Calif.; Michael William Donatelli, 45, of Indiana, Pa., and Rydstrom, now of Whittier, Calif.
"We are all cooperating fully with authorities. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families," the station said in a statement.
The Discovery Channel production company, Eyeworks USA, best known for creating NBC's "The Biggest Loser," issued a statement expressing sympathy to the victims' families. The cause and other circumstances surrounding the crash were still unknown, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
It was the site of another entertainment industry death in September, when a 48-year-old crew member died of an apparent heart attack while underwater in scuba gear on the set of the upcoming Johnny Depp film "The Lone Ranger."
Sunday's wreck was also 25 miles from a similar rural spot in Santa Clarita where actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed in another helicopter crash while filming the "Twilight Zone" movie in 1982.
Rydstrom's mother is the former co-owner of the Rochford Mall, an art gallery and gift shop in the tiny Black Hills hamlet that also sold Darren Rydstrom's photos from the Sturgis rally.
Her son loved Rochford and came back every summer during the rally to shoot professional portraits of bikers and their motorcycles there.
"He had a huge following there," she said.
A 1985 graduate of Rapid City Stevens, Rydstrom's career as a director of photography that would take him around the world had its beginning in a childhood love of cameras. Friends and family remember him as usually having a camera in his hands.
"He was the biggest pain in the neck because he had his eye in a lens all the time," his mother said. "He just did goofy things with the camera all the time." She recalled the time he filmed his sisters jumping on a trampoline and he reversed the film to make their dog appear to jump backward with them.
But his Hollywood career got its "jump start" at the Sturgis rally, his mother said, when he met a film crew and director in town for the rally who would help him get started in the industry and become his mentor.
"His first job in California was with them," she said. "He traveled all over the world — he's done feature length movies, television shows, commercials. And he got awards for his work in a cut-throat business like that. I couldn't have been more proud of him."
Rydstrom came back several times a year to visit family still living in Rapid City, including his father, Don Rydstrom, and his sister, Diana Springstead. Another sister, Jennifer Dunlap, lives in Tulsa, Okla.
"He comes back several times a year. He was last back in November to go pheasant hunting with me," Jeri Rydstrom said.
Her birthday present, he told her in that last phone call, was private golf lessons with his good friend and high school classmate JR Hamblet. He planned to visit in March so they could golf together, she said.
"And then the sheriff was at my door..." she said.
Funeral arrangements for Darren Rydstom are pending.
Born: 11/13/1966, Rapid City, South Dakota, U.S.A.
Died: 2/10/2013, Acton, California, U.S.A.
Darren Rydstrom’s western – cameraman:
From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter – 1999 [assistant cameraman]