The star and the director of the 1961 'Combat!' pilot died in separate helicopter accidents 30 years later

By: H&I Staff     Posted: December 1, 2020, 10:22AM

Image source: Everett Collection

Malibu is quite far away from the beaches of Normandy, both geographically and spiritually. But in December of 1961, a Hollywood production crew set up on the sands of Trancas Beach to recreate the historic storming of Ohama Beach on D-Day in World War II. 

Director Boris Sagal helmed this episode, titled "A Day In June," which was a pilot for a new war series called Combat! The rugged Vic Morrow starred as Sgt. "Chip" Saunders. Morrow was likely most familiar to audiences for his debut role in Blackboard Jungle (1955) and numerous guest spots on TV Westerns. He tested Lucas McCain as the crooked Johnny Cotton in "The Angry Gun" on The Rifleman. On Bonanza, he played the mysterious drifter Lassiter in "The Avenger." But Combat! gave the manly actor a chance to headline.

Despite being first in the production order, "A Day in June" would end up airing as the 11th episode of Combat!

Today, Vic Morrow's name is forever associated with one of the great production tragedies in filmmaking history. Three decades after the premiere of Combat!, Morrow landed a role in Twilight Zone: The Movie. In a segment of the anthology film helmed by John Landis, Morrow would play a racist sent back through time to learn sympathy the hard way. In one scene, Morrow's character lands in Vietnam, where, in a Quantum Leap-like twist, he is a Vietnamese soldier about to be killed by Americans.

Sadly, this war scene would lead to the death of one of TV's great war actors. In an infamous incident, a pyrotechnics explosion caused a hovering helicopter to lose its lift. The aircraft crashed atop Morrow and two child actors. 

Bizarrely, Morrow was not the only Combat! veteran to die by a helicopter blade in the early '80s. Just months earlier, his former director Boris Sagal perished when he walked into a helicopter blade on the set of the miniseries World War III.

The surname Sagal should strike a chord with classic TV fans. He is the father of Katey Sagal from Married… with Children. Daughter and dad did get to work together — one of Katey's earliest roles came in a Columbo episode directed by Boris.

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