Safety On Set: Camera Crew Outnumber Stunt Personnel 4-To-1 In On-Set Deaths

Third in a series.

Related: The Death Of Sarah Jones: Safety Concerns Raised Over ‘Midnight Rider’ Crew’s Previous Film In Georgia

Stunt drivers have helmets, roll bars, air bags and five-point safety harnesses to help keep them safe. All that a cameraman has between him and an oncoming speeding stunt car is his camera. It’s why so many cameramen and their assistants have gotten killed on film and TV productions: they’re right on top of the action — and sometimes killed beneath it. The loss of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider is yet another tragic death. Her passing has shined a light on set safety. It is particularly dangerous for cameramen and their assistants. In the last 10 years, more than four times as many camera department personnel have been killed making movies and TV shows than stunt performers. By comparison, two stuntmen – Kun Liu on The Expendables 2 and Lu Yanqing on John Woo’s Red Cliff – have been killed in the last 10 years, and none in America. (Also critically injured on The Expendables 2 was Nuo Sun.) Lu was only 23 years old. The following year, Kun’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Nu Image and Millennium Films, and stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski.

Here is a list of some of those cameramen and stuntmen who have perished while working in the industry:

February 24, 2013
Canadian cameraman John Driftmier and his pilot were killed when their small plane crashed on a location shoot in Kenya for the Discovery Canada channel’s Dangerous Flights, a series that documents the hazardous work of ferry pilots who deliver small, private planes to customers around the world. He was the second Canadian cameraman to die in two years while filming reality TV shows. Driftmier’s brother, journalist Peter Driftmier, maintains that a pervasive “culture of fear” in the Canadian reality TV industry is putting lives at risk. “The fact of the matter is that the hardworking people who create Canada’s factual TV productions are not being supported to make their workdays as safe as possible,” he said. “In fact, there is a widespread culture of fear in the industry that is steering people away from speaking up to improve safety on the job.” His brother’s death, he says, “has helped prompt many in the industry to become more conscious of their own safety, and to speak out.”

Related: Safety On Set: Three Workers Speak Out

February 10, 2013
Cameraman Darren Rydstrom, 46, and two others were killed in northern Los Angeles County when their helicopter crashed while filming of an untitled military-themed reality show for the Discovery Channel. Friends and family members recall that even as a kid, Rydstrom always had a camera in his hands. “He was the biggest pain in the neck because he had his eye in a lens all the time,” his mother, Jeri Rydstrom, told a reporter at his hometown paper, the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal. One of his last phone calls, made just a few hours before his death, was to wish her a happy birthday. He told her that her birthday gift was a private golf lesson, and that he’d see her soon and take her golfing. “And then the sheriff was at my door,” she said.

Related: Discovery Reality Show Chopper Crash Due To “Cost-Cutting Measures”, Lawsuit Claims

American cinematographer Mike deGruy and Australian TV writer-producer Andrew Wight were killed when their helicopter crashed and burned on takeoff in eastern Australia while filming James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge. One of the world’s greatest underwater photographers, deGruy traveled the world for 30 years shooting undersea footage for the BBC, PBS and National Geographic — and winning Emmy and BAFTA awards for his work on Blue Planet, the epic series about the world’s oceans. He dived many times on the Titanic, and as director of undersea photography for Cameron’s Last Mysteries Of The Titanic, joking that he’d had more meals on the doomed luxury liner than its passengers. Fascinated by sharks – he hosted and shot four documentaries about them – deGruy barely survived an attack in 1978 when a grey reef shark ripped off the top of his right arm, which, after 11 operations, left it only partially operable. His last project was to be an exploration of the Marianas Trench. He’d spend several weeks shooting in Australia and Papua New Guinea before diving into the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Two weeks before his death, he tweeted: “Boarding flight to Australia. Really looking forward to this project!” His last tweet read: “Been in Australia 2 weeks, one to go, then off to PNG (Papua New Guinea), Love this place.”

Cameraman Greg Jacobsen was killed in a helicopter crash in Pennsylvania while shooting footage for G4’s Campus PD for the digital TV channel. “Greg was kind, considerate and truly cared about the people he worked with,” said Jane Lloyd, head of the Toronto-based company he was working for at the time of his death. “He was creative, professional and would find fun in just about everything. He had a great sense of humor and an infectious smile and laugh.” Confederation College in Ontario, where he graduated from its film program, lowered its flags in his honor.

Cameraman Conway Wickliffe was killed while filming a car chase on the set of The Dark Knight in Surrey, England. Wickliffe had been hanging out the window of camera truck when it missed a turn and crashed into a tree.

Cameraman Roland Schlotzhauer was killed while filming a parade scene for the film The Final Season when the helicopter he was riding in hit a power line and crashed in an Iowa cornfield.

The Blair Witch Project cinematographer Neal Fredericks was killed in a plane crash in the waters off the Florida Keys while filming CrossBones, a low-budget horror film. The film’s director, pilot and two other crew members managed to escape the wreckage, but Fredericks could not free himself and drowned. He was 35.

Docus puller Alain Dutarte was killed on the Paris set of Taxi 2 on August 19 when a stunt car lost control and crashed into members of the film’s camera crew.

Cameraman Gadi Danzig and four filmmakers were killed in the Philippines when their helicopter crashed during production of Delta Force II.

Assistant cameraman Bruce Ingram was killed and seven others were seriously injured while filming a car chase scene outside of Tucson, AZ, for the movie The Wraith. The accident happened when an overloaded camera car crashed on a mountainous road, sending bodies flying everywhere. Ingram’s other credits included Star 80 and The Grey Fox. Stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hacker said at the time: “The cars that they built for us were very dangerous and hard to drive. The equipment we had, although it looked good, was very difficult to work with. We worked on them throughout the film, but you’re doing high-speed stuff, 70, 80, 90 miles per hour with these cars that are wandering all over the road and have skeptical braking. There was nothing really built for us to use, we just used what we got.”

Cinematographer Garry Hansen and two others were killed in a helicopter crash while filming a TV commercial in Australia.

Camera assistant Jack Tandberg was killed when he was struck by a driverless stunt car during filming of the TV movie The Five Of Me.

Camera assistant Rodney Mitchell was killed and eight other Dukes Of Hazzard crew members were injured when a three-quarter-ton camera truck they were riding on flipped over while rehearsing a chase scene near Lake Sherwood, CA. Five months later, cameraman Robert Van Der Kar was killed in a helicopter crash in Hawaii while filming an episode of Magnum P.I.

Cameraman Peter Gilfillian and three others, including director Gordon Parks Jr., were killed in a plane crash while filming Revenge in Kenya. He was the son of venerable filmmaker Gordon Parks, who was the first black director to helm a studio movie. Parks followed in his father’s footsteps before dying at age 45.

Cameraman Skeets Kelly and three others were killed in a mid-air collision between a helicopter and a biplane during filming of Zepplin in Ireland.

Cameraman Raffael John Esposito and actress Brenda Lee Meinsenheimer were killed making a Pontiac TV commercial in Thousand Oaks, CA when a camera boom suspended from an oncoming camera car crashed through the windshield of their car.

Robert King Baggot, a cameraman working on Disney’s Lieutenant Robin Crusoe, USN, was killed in Kauai when a huge wave hit his 16-foot boat and washed him overboard. Special effects man Peter Ellenshaw, who that year had won the special effects Oscar for Mary Poppins, was also knocked overboard but reached shore unharmed.

Celebrated cameraman Charles Stumer and art director Harrison Wiley were killed while scouting locations for a film shoot near Agoura Hills, CA when their plane crashed into a tree. Universal Pictures officials announced that the film’s schedule “will not be interrupted by the tragedy.” Stumer was the famed cinematographer of The Mummy and Werewolf Of London.

While shooting The Viking off the coast of Newfoundland, cameraman Alexander Penrod and 26 other film crew members were killed when dynamite used to break ice accidentally exploded and blew up their ship.

Four Hollywood cameramen — George Eastman, Otto Jordan, Conrad Wells and Ben Frankel — were killed on the same day, making the same movie, when their camera planes collided and fell into the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast while filming Such Men Are Dangerous. Six others, including the film’s director, were also killed.

Cameraman Alvin Knechtel and pilot William Hauber and were killed on the set of The Aviator when their plane crashed while scouting locations for a scene in which a forced landing was to be filmed later that day.

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Safety On Set: Three Workers Speak Out

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