Alec Baldwin on-set tragedy: What could have gone wrong?

What could have gone wrong on Alec Baldwin movie set that led to fatal accident? Prop gun was loaded with live round instead of a blank round

  • Halyna Hutchins was killed on Thursday when she was shot on set of Rust 
  • Baldwin thought he was firing blanks, but it’s feared the gun was loaded with a live round 
  • There is an ongoing sheriff’s department investigation into what happened
  • Blanks are often used on film sets because they are more lifelike than rubber bullets 
  • But many industry experts say it’s avoidable now with special effects 
  • There is an ongoing investigation into the safety protocols on set  

The sequence of events on set that led to Alec Baldwin accidentally shooting and killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins remains unclear, but industry experts and past, similar tragedies indicate only a handful of options for what may have happened. 

The most obvious option now is that the actor accidentally fired a live round, thinking it was a blank, after being handed the weapon by either a prop master or armorer.   

After firing the shot, Baldwin was heard saying: ‘In all my years, I’ve never been handed a hot gun.’

IATSE 44, the biggest union to represent film prop masters, also told its members that she was struck by a live round and not a blank. 

How exactly that live round found its way into the gun remains unconfirmed but there are some options. 

SQUIB LOAD: Real bullet was lodged in the barrel of the gun when Baldwin fired a blank 

One possibility is that an object was stuck in the barrel of the prop gun that Baldwin was using. Known as a squib load, it happens when a cartridge isn’t fired from the barrel because the gas isn’t strong enough to push it out. 

In itself, it is not dangerous and can be fixed if the gun is safely cleared but if someone keeps firing rounds from that same gun – live or not – it can be highly dangerous. 

If a second round is fired behind the stuck round, it can cause the weapon to explode, or injure people in the near vicinity. 

Alec Baldwin is pictured sobbing after shooting and killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of his upcoming movie Rust in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Thursday 

The 68 year-old actor was also snapped doubled-over in a parking lot, with his hands on his knees and his face seemingly crumpled with distress 

The difference between live rounds and blanks is the tip of the cartridge where the lethal bullet is contained is not there on a blank. Sometimes they are replaced with cotton or paper. Dummy bullets, unlike blanks, look like ordinary bullets but aren’t meant to contain the metal bullet tip either 

If a real bullet was stuck in the gun when it was loaded with blanks and Baldwin pulled the trigger, it may have forced the stuck bullet out. 

In that scenario, the gun had not been properly cleared before it was handed to him.

A real bullet was accidentally loaded, or part of one was, instead of a blank 

After firing the gun, Baldwin’s immediate reaction was to ask why he’d been handed a ‘hot’ gun – meaning one containing live bullets. 

Halyna Hutchins, 42, (left) was shot dead in the incident on Thursday at the Bonanza Creek Ranch

That is what happened in the 1993 shooting of actor Brandon Bruce Lee on the set of The Crow. 

Those on set thought the gun was loaded with blanks, but an autopsy revealed a .44 caliber bullet was lodged near Lee’s spine. 

Police recovered dummy shell casings from the set. 

A dummy, unlike a blank, looks like a live round with a bullet at the tip of the cartridge. 

The difference between live rounds and blanks is the tip of the cartridge where the lethal bullet is contained is not there on a blank. 

Sometimes they are replaced with cotton or paper. 

Dummy bullets, unlike blanks, look like ordinary bullets but aren’t meant to contain the metal bullet tip either.

Blank round struck something else on set, causing shrapnel to hit Hutchins and the director

One possibility, though it is not likely, is that the blank hit something else, damaged it, and caused that prop or piece of equipment to send pieces flying towards the director and Hutchins. 

Some TV and film set experts have speculated that this could have been the case if Baldwin was shooting towards the camera.  

Some film and TV industry experts have speculated that the gun was fired when Halyna was behind the camera – something union rules prevent 

Rhys Muldoon who has used guns on set many times and says even blanks are dangerous, speculated at that possibility, telling the BBC: ‘The first thought I had is this is a close up of a gun being fired by the actor, very close to the frame of the camera, that has misfired, hit the DoP, and then something has either come off the French Flag or the black box like a part of the camera and hit the director as well.’ 

But movie experts say even in those cases, there should be more safeguards in place. 

‘If you are in the line of fire… You would have a face mask, you would have goggles, you would stand behind a Perspex screen, and you would minimize the number of people by the camera. 

‘What I don’t understand in this instance is how two people have been injured, one tragically killed, in the same event,’ Steven Hall, who has worked on films such as Fury and The Imitation Game, told BBC. 

Others say that it may have been the case that Hutchins was at the camera, with the director, filming a scene that involved Baldwin shooting towards it, when the round went off.  

‘We have a hard and fast rule that no live ammunition ever goes into a prop truck or set at any time. We just don’t do it. If you see bullets on set they are complete dummy rounds and are in no way functional.

‘This goes back to Brandon Lee. There’s protocol.  Many, many people had to fail at the protocols we set on place for this to happen,’ Zachary Knight, a member of the IATSE Local 44 union, told on Friday. 

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