The death was confirmed to Deadline by Coweta County Coroner Richard Hawk, who said Bernecker died of blunt force trauma at 6:30 PM ET on Wednesday. A source at the hospital told Deadline earlier that Bernecker had been placed on a ventilator while his family made arrangements.
Bernecker’s family has agreed to donate Bernecker’s organs through LifeLink of Georgia, a nonprofit group dedicated to the recovery of organs and tissue for transplantation.
Federal workplace monitor OSHA and SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents stunt performers, have launched investigations into the accident.
It’s believed to be the first stunt-related death in the United States in more than 17 years. AMC said earlier today that it temporarily halted production on Season 8 of the zombie apocalypse series in the wake of the accident.
Sources say Bernecker and an actor were rehearsing a fight scene that was supposed to end with a routine fall from a balcony, but he lost his footing and fell 30 feet to a concrete floor. He was pronounced brain-dead at the hospital and was taken off life support today.
IMDb lists more than 90 stunt credits since 2009 for Bernecker, including the recent features Black Panther, Logan, Get Out, The Fate of the Furious and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. He also was featured in a 2014 episode of the web series Behind the Stunts. Watch a 2016 reel of Bernecker’s stunt work below.
Stunt work has always been dangerous, but less so now than ever before, said veteran stuntman Conrad Palmisano, a member of the SAG-AFTRA stunt and safety committee. “Generally, it’s safer now that it was 20 years ago, and I anticipate it being safer 20 years from now than it was today,” he told Deadline. “But it’s still a dangerous business. The nature of stunts is inherently dangerous, and we work very hard to create stunts in the safest possible manner. However, it’s still dangerous and things can go wrong. It’s never one thing. Usually the planets have to align in all the wrong ways for something tragically to go wrong. When we as a stunt community examine what happened, we look to fix the problem, not to affix the blame.”
Although stunt deaths have become rare in the U.S., falls have proved particularly deadly in the past. In 2000, Brady Michaels was killed while filming the UPN reality show I Dare You when he fell from a stationary train during rehearsals in Arizona and struck his head on a rock.
In 1996, Paul Dallas died of head injuries in a fall on the set of the TV series L.A. Heat. He fell 57 feet from a power plant platform and landed on the airbag that was supposed to break his fall but was ejected backward and hit his head on a metal railing.
Two years earlier, stuntwoman Sonja Davis was killed in a high fall on the set of the film A Vampire in Brooklyn. Jumping from a rooftop, she partially missed the airbag below and struck her head on the pavement.
In 1990, a high fall also took the life of stuntman Jay C. Currin, who was killed in a 60-foot jump from a seaside cliff in Malibu on the first day of filming Bikini Island. Landing on the edge of the airbag, he was thrown into the rocks along the beach.
In 1981, Jack Tyree was killed when he jumped off an 80-foot cliff in Malibu and missed his airbag while filming The Sword and the Sorcerer.
Three years earlier, stuntman A.J. Bakunas was killed on the set of the movie Steel while attempting to set a world record by jumping without a parachute from the 22nd floor of a construction site in downtown Lexington, KY. A canvas and plastic airbag intended to cushion his fall split open upon impact. He’d set a world record for a 230-foot jump the year before on Hooper and was killed while attempting to retake the record from Dar Robinson, who’d made a 296-foot high-fall. Directed by stunt legend Hal Needham, Hooper starred Burt Reynolds as an aging Hollywood stuntman who tries to keep ahead of the new kid on the block (Jan-Michael Vincent).
Denise Petski and Erik Pedersen contributed to this story.