Firearm that led to death of stuntman while filming Bliss n Eso music video should not have been on set, coroner finds

Actor and stunt performer Johann Ofner was killed in 2017, after a weapon that was believed to be loaded with inoperable blanks was fired at him in close range during filming

A coroner has found the illegal supply of a weapon and ammunition caused the death of actor and stunt performer Johann Ofner, who was killed after being shot with a blank shotgun round during the filming of a Bliss n Eso music video in 2017.

Ofner, aged 28 at the time of his death, was killed in January 2017 during the filming of the rap group’s music video for their song ‘Friend Like You’ at Brisbane bar the Brooklyn Standard.

During the filming of a scene involving an underground poker game, another stuntman fired a sawn-off 12-gauge shotgun at close range at Ofner, containing what were believed at the time to be inoperable blanks. A post-mortem determined that debris from the blank fatally struck Ofner’s heart.

As the ABC reports, in inquest findings handed down in Brisbane on Tuesday (January 25), coroner Donald MacKenzie attributed Ofner’s death in part to the actions of armourer Warren Ritchie, who supplied an operable shotgun which was not permitted for theatrical productions. As such, it should never have on set, the coroner found.

In addition, the rounds the firearm was loaded with contained illegally-obtained homemade shells  – which, while not containing steel projectiles, did contain ignition powder, cloth wadding and a plastic casing.

“The use of a plastic wad and fibre filler in the shotgun cartridge shell created a projectile so this sawn-off shotgun could not be considered inoperable,” the coroner ruled. Ofner died as a result of heart failure from two projectile wounds, caused by transmitted force, not the penetration of the projectiles themselves.

Ritchie died of natural causes in August of 2017. Had he still been alive, the armourer would have faced charges including manslaughter, unlawful possession of a hand gun, and a breach of workplace health and safety causing death, MacKenzie found.

“The critical lesson from this tragedy is that Mr. Ofner died as a result of criminal actions,” the coroner said in his findings. “His death was avoidable.”

Additionally, MacKenzie pointed to multiple other failures that contributed to Ofner’s death, including not undertaking a firearm safety briefing or conducting a test-fire of the weapon. No charges have been laid against those involved with the clip’s production or the scene’s coordination.

The inquest’s aim was to find ways a similar tragedy could be avoided in the future. To that end, MacKenzie made three recommendations for how deaths such as Ofner’s could be prevented. Those recommendations included the Queensland government reviewing relevant weapons legislation around blank fire ammunition rounds.

MacKenzie also recommended Queensland police assess the role of theatrical armourers with a view to introduce qualification standards, and to liaise with interstate counterparts to create an Australia-wide legislative code outlawing the use of operable firearms in theatrical productions.

MacKenzie also recommended the Office of Industrial Relations consider instituting a consistent code of practice for armourers and theatrical firearm use.

Following the incident in 2017, Bliss n Eso issued a statement regarding Ofner’s death, explaining they were not on set at the time.

“The three of us are extremely upset and shaken up by this and our hearts and prayers go out to the victim’s family and friends as well as the cast and crew who were involved in the clip,” they wrote.

The trio organised a tribute concert in Ofner’s memory in March that year, with all proceeds going towards his then six-year-old daughter.