On October 21, 2021, American actor Alex Baldwin was shooting a scene with a gun on the set of Rust, a western film written and directed by Joel Souza. He was rehearsing with the gun, with director Joel Souza and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins behind the camera. As usual, Baldwin fired what he thought was a prop, not knowing what would happen later on.
Director Joel Souza was, luckily, just wounded, but Halyna Hutchins lost her life. She was hit with a real bullet and declared dead several hours later in an accident that is just the most recent one on a long list of fatal accidents on film and television sets. In this article, we are going to go through the tragic history of fatal accidents on television and movie sets since 1914.
Fatal Accidents on Movie Sets
Below we will sort fatal accidents on movie sets in chronological order. After that, you can find out about the accidents that happened on the TV sets.
1. Across the Border (1914) – Grace McHugh and Owen Carter
On July 1, 1914, while filming in Canon City, Colorado, actress Grace McHugh shot a scene in which her character crossed the river Arkansas in a boat. When the boat turned over, cameraman Owen Carter immediately jumped into the river to rescue the actress.
He pulled her onto a sandbar that was later discovered to be quicksand. The rest of the film crew watched helplessly as they were sucked into the sandbar and drowned. Carter posthumously received a Carnegie Hero Award for his rescue.
2. The Captive (1915) – Charles Chandler
While filming a scene in which the soldiers had to break down a locked door, the extras shot the door with live ammunition to make the scene look more realistic. Director Cecil B. DeMille then ordered them to reload their guns with blanks to shoot the next scene, in which the door was already broken down.
Sadly, one of the extras accidentally left a live round in his rifle, which discharged and shot another extra, Charles Chandler, in the head, killing him on the spot.
3. The Skywayman (1920) – Milton Elliott and Ormer Locklear
Pilots Milton Elliott and Ormer Locklear were killed on August 2, 1920, while filming night scenes when their plane crashed at DeMille Airfield, along Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. The film is today considered to be lost.
4. The Warrens of Virginia (1924) – Martha Mansfield
Martha Mansfield was severely burned on November 29, 1923, when her hoopskirt and flimsy frilled Civil War costume ignited in a match thrown by a performer while working on the ground in San Antonio, Texas.
Mansfield, who had played the role of Agatha Warren, just finished the scene, and she retired to the car when her clothes burned. Her neck and her face were saved when her starring actor Wilfred Lytell put her thick coat on her. The driver of Mansfield’s car was severely burned when trying to undress her actress’s burning clothes. The fire went out, but she was severely burned and died the next day.
5. Ben-Hur (1925) – Unnamed stuntman
An attempt to film the chariot race on scene at the Circus Maximus in Rome resulted in the death of an unnamed stuntman when a wheel of his chariot broke.
6. Noah’s Ark (1928) – Three dead (plus other incidents)
During the filming of the Great Flood scene, a disaster happened in which three people died, one man lost a leg and a number were injured. This tragedy influenced the introduction of the film safety regulations in 1929.
6. The Aviator (1929) – Alvin Knechtel and William Hauber
Cameraman Alvin Knechtel and actor and stunt pilot William Hauber were killed while shooting flight scenes when an aircraft suddenly crashed during filming.
7. Hell’s Angels (1930) – Al Wilson, Phil Jones, Al Johnson and Clement Phillips
The production of Hell’s Angles was filled with aircraft accidents, four of which ended up being fatal, with three pilots and a mechanic (Jones) dead. During filming on March 22, 1929, stunt pilot Al Wilson went into a spin during the final scene and was unable to recover.
He was ready to bail out and shouted to his mechanic Phil Jones (who was dumping lampblack in the back of the plane to simulate smoke) to bail out, but Jones did not hear him and crashed the plane. Only a brief shot of the spinning Sikorsky was used in the film. Two other stunt pilots, Al Johnson and Clement Phillips were killed in separate accidents.
8. Such Men Are Dangerous (1930) – Ten fatalities
During aerial photography off the coast of Southern California near Santa Monica, two Stinson Detroit planes used as camera planes collided over the sea on January 2, 1930.
All ten men aboard the two planes were killed, including director Kenneth Hawks (brother of Howard Hawks), assistant director Max Gold, cameraman Conrad Wells, cinematographer George Eastman, cinematographers Otto Jordan and Ben Frankel, two props men, and both pilots. Only five bodies were recovered.
9. The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) – Unnamed stuntman and multiple horses
During the filming of the attack sequence, a stuntman was killed when he fell off his horse and landed on a broken sword lying in the field, wedged so that its blade was sticking straight up, which unfortunately killed him. Due to the use of tripwires, three dozen horses also had their legs broken and had to be shot during the shooting.
10. They Died with Their Boots On (1941) – Jack Budlong and two unnamed extras
Three horsemen perished during the cavalry charge, one of whom was extra Jack Budlong, whose horse tripped as he rode alongside Errol Flynn. As he fell forward, he had the foresight to toss his sword ahead of him. Unfortunately, it landed handle down and stuck in place. Budlong was impaled on his own sword, and died in a Los Angeles hospital a few hours later.
11. The Royal Mounted Rides Again (1945) – Addison “Jack” Randall
The actor was killed on July 16, 1945, in Canoga Park, California, while riding at full speed past the cameras for a Universal Pictures series. He fell out of the saddle while trying to retrieve his hat, which had been blown off his head, and struck a tree. He died shortly thereafter.
12. The Horse Soldiers (1959) – Fred Kennedy
The veteran stuntman and bit player, was killed in a horse fall accident while filming John Ford’s film in Louisiana.
13. Tsvetok na kamne (1962) – Inna Burduchenko
Soviet actress Inna Burduchenko suffered third-degree burns while filming a scene in a burning barracks on July 30, 1960. She died in the hospital on 15 August while being three months pregnant at the time of her death. Due to the lack of safety measures, the director, Anatoly Slesarenko, was tried and convicted for Burduchenko’s death.
14. The War Lover (1962) – Mike Reilly
While filming a parachute scene over the English Channel, one of the jumpers, Englishman Mike Reilly, drowned in the sea.
15. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) – Paul Mantz
Pilot Paul Mantz crashed while filming a low pass scene on July 8, 1965.
16. Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. (1965) – Robert King Baggot
Cameraman Robert King Baggot was killed during filming in Kauai when a huge wave hit his boat and washed him overboard, killing him.
17. Direktor (1965) – Yevgeni Urbansky
The Soviet film star was killed while performing his own stunt during the shooting of Direktor in 1965; the original project had then been abandoned and reshoot four years later.
18. High Jungle (1966) – Eric Fleming
On September 28, 1966, Rawhide actor Eric Fleming was filming in Peru. In the final stages of filming, Fleming’s dugout canoe overturned in the Huallaga River. Actor Nico Minardos managed to swim to safety, but Fleming was swept away by the current and drowned.
19. Battle of Britain (1969) – Don Federico Eglesias Lanzo
Spanish pilot Don Federico Eglesias Lanzo was killed during filming when his plane crashed in Seville, Spain.
20. Shark! (1969) – Jose Marco
During production, one of the film’s stuntmen, Jose Marco, was attacked and killed on camera by a great white shark that breached a protective net. The attack was captured on film and led to a photo spread in Life magazine. The title was changed to Shark! to capitalize on the controversy.
21. Barquero (1970) – Robert Sparr and pilot
On August 28, 1969, director Robert Sparr was killed in a plane crash while scouting locations with cameraman Gerald Finnerman. The single-engine plane they were traveling in crashed near Brush Hollow Reservoir outside Penrose, Colorado. The pilot was also killed in the crash, but Finnerman survived.
22. Catch-22 (1970) – John Jordan
Second-unit director John Jordan died when he was sucked out of a B-25 Mitchell while filming a bombing scene, refusing to wear a safety harness. Three years earlier, Jordan lost his foot while filming You Only Live Twice in Japan.
23. Insee tong (1970) – Mitr Chaibancha
Thai star Mitr Chaibancha was killed while filming his popular role, masked crime fighter Insee Daeng (Red Eagle). On the last day of filming, Mitr had to grab a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter.
However, he only managed to grab the bottom rung. When the helicopter pilot took off, Mitr finally lost his grip and fell to the ground. The accident was filmed and appeared in the final theatrical release.
24. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) – Guy Thomas Strong
Pilot Guy Thomas Strong was killed when his modified plane crashed in a sugar-cane field in Ewa, during aerial rehearsals prior to shooting.
25. Zeppelin (1971) – Burch Williams, Skeets Kelly, Jim Liddy and Gilbert Chomat
During aerial filming over the Irish Sea, a replica SE5 biplane and an Alouette helicopter camera-ship collided in mid-air, killing assistant-director Burch Williams, cameraman Skeets Kelly and pilots Jim Liddy and Gilbert Chomat.
26. Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) – Charles Boddington
Stunt pilot Charles Boddington was killed during filming when a vintage biplane he was flying crashed at Weston Airport near Dublin, Ireland.
27. Comes a Horseman (1978) – Jim Sheppard
During the filming of the scene in which Jason Robards’ character is (presumably) dragged to his death, his stunt double Jim Sheppard was killed when a horse pulling him went off course and slammed his head into a fence post.
28. Revenge (1979) – Gordon Parks, Jr., Peter Gilfillian and two other victims
Director Gordon Parks, Jr., cameraman Peter Gilfillian, and two others were killed in a plane crash while filming in Kenya.
29. Steel (1979) – A.J. Bakunas
A.J. Bakunas died as a stand-in for George Kennedy in a fall from the Kincaid Towers in Lexington, Kentucky. Bakunas had already successfully demonstrated a fall from the ninth floor of the construction site.
However, when he learned that Dar Robinson had broken his record for an unrelated publicity stunt, Bakunas returned to perform the fall from the top of the 91-foot-high construction site. Bakunas expertly executed the fall, but the airbag ruptured and he was killed.
30. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – Paolo Rigon
While filming a high-speed bobsled chase, the four-man bobsled came off the track in the wrong place and crashed into a tree. One of the riders, a young stuntman named Paolo Rigon, was killed.
31. The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) – Jack Tyree
Stuntman Jack Tyree was killed while performing a stunt at a great height in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. During a 78-foot (24 m) fall in heavy costume and makeup, Tyree missed his airbag, resulting in a fatal impact.
32. High Road to China (1983) – Nigel Thornton, David Perrin and Jaron Anderson
During filming in Yugoslavia, a helicopter crashed en route to the location. All three people on board–copter pilot Nigel Thornton, stunt pilot David Perrin and mechanic Jaron Anderson–were killed in the crash.
33. Midnite Spares (1983) – David Brostoff
Focus-puller David Brostoff was killed when, during the shooting of a motor-race scene at Granville, Australia, one of the sprint-cars swerved off the track and struck him, driving his body through two fences and killing him.
34. The Right Stuff (1983) – Joseph Leonard Svec
Stuntman Joseph Leonard Svec died in a parachute jump reenacting Chuck Yeager’s escape from a crashed NF-104. In real life, Yeager’s flight helmet had caught fire when it collided in mid-air with the ejection seat’s heated exhaust.
Svec carried a smoke canister during his free fall to simulate such a fire. However, this may have intoxicated the stuntman, causing him to lose consciousness. He failed to open his parachute and plummeted to his death.
35.Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) – Myca Dinh Le, Renee Shin-Yi Chen and Vic Morrow
On July 23, 1982, two children, Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6), and actor Vic Morrow were killed by a helicopter during production when it caught pyrotechnics and flew at a height of 25 feet (8 meters). The tail rotor decapitated Morrow and Le and crushed Chen to death.
36. Top Gun (1986) – Art Scholl
On September 16, 1985, aerobatic pilot Art Scholl crashed his Pitts S-2 camera-plane off the southern Californian coast near Carlsbad and neither was recovered.
37. Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (1989) – H. B. Halicki
Director and actor H. B. Halicki was killed in Buffalo, New York, when a water tower he was trying to topple fell prematurely and hit a telephone pole, which then hit him in the head. The film was canceled as a result of the accident.
38. The Bodyguard (1992) – Unnamed crew member
A worker died when he was crushed between two lighting-equipment cranes during filming.
39. The Crow (1994) – Brandon Lee
On March 31, 1993, American actor and martial artist Brandon Lee was accidentally shot in North Carolina with a .44 Magnum pistol that was supposed to fire blanks but contained a bullet left behind after a dummy was inserted and removed.
40. Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) – Sonja Davis
Angela Bassett’s stunt-double Sonja Davis fell to her death in a stunt gone wrong.
41. XXX (2002) – Harry L. O’Connor
On April 4, 2002, Vin Diesel’s stunt double, Harry L. O’Connor, was killed while shooting a scene where he was supposed to rappel down a parasailing line and land on a submarine. Instead, he struck a bridge at high speed and died immediately.
42. The Dark Knight (2008) – Conway Wickliffe
Cameraman Conway Wickliffe was killed in 2007 on the set of Nolan’s Dark Knight, while he rode in a pickup truck driving parallel to a stunt car; the pickup missed a 90-degree turn and crashed into a tree, killing Wickliffe.
43. American Made (2017) – Alan D. Purwin and Carlos Berl
Stunt pilot Alan D. Purwin and his Venezuelan co-pilot Carlos Berl were killed when their aircraft crashed during filming of American Made in Medellín, Colombia. An unnamed third person on board the aircraft survived the accident.
44. Motherless Brooklyn (2019) – Michael Davidson
On March 22, 2018, a fire broke out on one of the film’s sets in New York City. The firefighters were quick to rush to the scene but the resulting blaze nevertheless killed firefighter Lieutenant Michael Davidson, who became the incident’s only casualty.
45. Rust (2021) – Halyna Hutchins
On October 21, 2021, at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Bonanza City, New Mexico, USA, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot and director Joel Souza was wounded on the set of the film Rust after actor Alec Baldwin fired a gun used as a prop that had been handed to him by assistant director Dave Halls.
The incident is being investigated by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office for the First Judicial District of New Mexico and the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau. Production of the film was suspended indefinitely.
Fatal Accidents on TV Sets
In the next section, you will find fatal accidents that have happened on TV sets (sorted chronologically).
1. Matlock Police (1971), episode 36 (“End of the Road”) – Unnamed cameraman
While filming episode 36 (“End of the Road”) of the Matlock Police TV show, a vehicle driven by a cast member struck and killed a member of the camera crew after losing control while negotiating a gravel bend.
2. La Cloche Tibétaine (1973), episode 4 (“L’escadron d’or”) – Roger Delgado and two technicians
On June 18, during the filming of episode 4, “L’escadron d’or” (English: “The Golden Squadron”), of this French miniseries, actor Roger Delgado and two Turkish film technicians were killed when their car left the road and plunged into a ravine.
3. Primal Man (1974) – Janos Prohaska, Robert Prohaska, and 34 other deaths
Actor and stunt performer Janos Prohaska, his son Robert, and 34 other people died in an airplane crash while filming this television series
4. The Dukes of Hazzard (1980) – Rodney Mitchell
Assistant cameraman Rodney Mitchell was killed while eight other crew members were injured when their camera truck flipped while rehearsing a chase scene.
5. Magnum, P.I. (1980) – Rob Van Der Kar
Cameraman Rob Van Der Kar was killed in a helicopter crash while filming an episode of the show.
6. The Five of Me (1981) – Jack Tandberg
Camera assistant Jack Tandberg was killed when he was hit by a driverless stunt car during filming of this made-for-television film.
7. World War III (1982) – Boris Sagal
While filming this made-for-TV movie, director Boris Sagal was fatally wounded when his skull was fractured as he walked into the tail rotor blade of a helicopter.
8. The Sword of Tipu Sultan (1989) – 62 deaths
The shooting of this Indian television film resulted in the most on-set deaths in film history. A total of 62 extras and crew members died after a fire broke out and they were trapped in the burning film studio. Director and lead actor Sanjay Khan suffered severe burns and spent 13 months in hospital undergoing 72 operations.