Investigation by Johann Ofner: Ninja Warrior stuntman filmed on Bliss N Eso music video similar to Alec Baldwin
A stuntman and former Ninja Warrior contestant who was shot while filming a music video for hip-hop trio Bliss N Eso “died of criminal activity,” a coroner has found.
An inquest into Johann Ofner’s death was concluded on Tuesday, with the coroner finding the young father’s death was a “preventable tragedy”.
The 28-year-old from the Gold Coast died of fatal gunshot wounds after a blank-loaded prop cannon was fired into his chest on set at the Brooklyn Standard bar in Brisbane in January 2017.
“It is evident that what happened on January 23, 2017 can only be described as an accumulation of mistakes leading to tragedy,” Coroner Donald MacKenzie said Tuesday.
He blamed it almost entirely on Warren Ritchie, who was employed as an armorer on the set.
The criminal investigation was aided by the disturbing fact that Mr Ofner’s death was caught on camera.
Mr Ritchie, who has since died of natural causes, would “almost certainly” have been prosecuted had he been alive and could have spent more than a decade behind bars if convicted.
The 12 gauge sawed-off shotgun he provided was never test fired before it was fired at Mr Ofner. It was also capable of making live rounds, meaning it could not legally be used on set, despite assurances from Mr Ritchie.
The shooting was considered a success until people realized Mr Ofner had been shot and injured
This footage from CCTV at the bar shows the moments before the fatal shot was fired at Mr Ofner, who is standing on the right, aiming a prop gun at another man’s head
By all reports, Mr Ritchie was highly regarded in the industry but was critically unwell at the time of filming and was on prescribed opioid medication, which the coroner determined may have affected his judgement.
The shotgun shells used in the music video were supplied to Mr. Ritchie by Adam Corless, a gun dealer who self-taught ammunition reloading.
Before his death, Mr Ritchie told Mr Corless he had previously used six of his cartridges on a separate smaller production and “nothing happened”.
He said “it was the same situation” and he instructed the actor with the gun to “aim to the side.”
Corless pleaded guilty to charges of unauthorized manufacture of explosives and unauthorized sale of explosives in Brisbane Magistrates Court in 2018.
He was fined $2,500 after telling the court he had no idea the cartridges were being used indoors.
During the inquest, Mr Ofner’s mother, Maria, issued a statement saying she had cancer and was dismayed at the death of her eldest son.
“Sorrow will follow me to my grave,” she said.
Ms Ofner said her son, himself a father of one, could “light up a room” and said her world, once filled with love and laughter, has been plunged into darkness.
The inquiry heard calls for an overhaul of entertainment industry firearm safety restrictions following the accident.
Stunt coordinator Judd Wild, known for his work on Mad Max: Fury Road, supported calls for a safety overhaul but said he believed the set was safe.
“If I had believed that there was a risk of him being hit by a projectile, we wouldn’t have completed the scene,” said Mr. Wild.
Ofner was tragically killed while filming a scene involving props and blanks (pictured above is a still of another gun from an Instagram video shot on set).
A post-mortem found that a projectile from the blank entered Mr Ofner’s chest and ruptured his heart
The 12 gauge sawed-off shotgun he provided was never test fired before it was fired at Mr Ofner. It was also capable of making live rounds, meaning it could not legally be used on set, despite assurances from Mr Ritchie
“If I had known anything was going to happen to (Mr Ofner), I would have said no.”
The investigation results come just months after Hollywood A-lister Alec Baldwin shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of his film Rust in October 2021.
Baldwin recently turned over his phone to police to help investigate the tragic shooting.
The actor and father of seven has not been charged in connection with Halyna’s death, although investigations continue and lawsuits have been filed.
His attorney, Aaron Dyer, said he willingly turned over his phone, even though “his matter is not about his phone and there are no answers on his phone.
“Alec didn’t do anything wrong. It is clear that he was told it was a cold gun and was following instructions when this tragic accident occurred,” Mr Dyer said.
“The real question that needs to be answered is how live rounds got on set in the first place.”
Investigations into the safety of the set and measures to protect cast and crew are ongoing.
Alec Baldwin is seen October 21 after speaking to investigators about the fatal shooting
Rust’s set at Bonanza Creek Ranch outside of Santa Fe where the shooting took place
Hutchins (center), a 42-year-old cameraman, died after being shot by Baldwin during a rehearsal in New Mexico on Oct. 21
Meanwhile the Bliss N Eso production There had been a failure to hire a safety officer or a qualified first aid officer to ensure health and safety regulations were being followed in the workplace, the inquiry said.
In addition to the sawed-off shotgun, at least eight firearms were used, including blank guns and replica automatic weapons that could not fire projectiles.
On the day of filming, the cast and crew went through a final dress rehearsal for the shooting sequences “without testing the firearms,” the inquest was told.
Mr Ofner wore protective padding and a back vest so he could be pulled backwards after the shots were fired.
During the scene, the gun was loaded with homemade “blank” shotgun shells made by a clerk at a Brisbane gun shop.
28-year-old Johann Ofner was shot and killed on the set of a Bliss n Eso video clip in January 2017
Ofner was supposed to appear in Ninja Warrior and make the grand finale, but his scenes were scrapped after his tragic death
The sequence appeared to be a success – until people realized Mr Ofner had been shot and injured.
Despite desperate efforts to revive the stuntman, he was later pronounced dead.
An autopsy revealed that a projectile from the blank entered his chest and ruptured his heart.
Investigating officer Detective Sergeant John Fleming said gunsmith Warren Ritchie was hired by production company Dreamers Creative Agency to supply the guns.
Mr. Ritchie, now deceased, was responsible for loading and unloading the firearms.
“The shortened shotgun was a Category H live weapon and should not have been brought to the set,” said Sgt. Fleming.
“During the investigation, a number of criminal offenses were identified… including the illegal manufacture of the ammunition.
“A more rigorous overview of the industry may need to be given – checks don’t appear to have been carried out to see if they comply with the legislation.”
Sgt. Fleming said Mr. Ritchie bought the shotgun blanks more than 12 months ago.