Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of a Western film and killed the cinematographer, officials have said.

The director of the movie was also wounded, and authorities are investigating what happened.

Halyna Hutchins, cinematographer on Rust, and director Joel Souza were shot on Thursday in the desert on the southern outskirts of Santa Fe.

A spokesperson for Baldwin said there was an accident involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks.

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s spokesman Juan Rios said detectives were investigating what type of projectile had been discharged and how. No immediate charges were filed.

It was not clear if Baldwin was performing at the time of the shooting or how many rounds were fired and little was known about the weapon.

Baldwin tweeted on Friday, expressing his condolences to Hutchins’ family and calling the shooting an accident.

“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully co-operating with the police investigation,” he wrote on Twitter.

“My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”

Images of the 63-year-old actor – known for his roles in 30 Rock and The Hunt For Red October as well as his impression of former US president Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live – showed him distraught outside the sheriff’s office on Thursday.

Prop guns fire blanks, gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang but not a hard projectile. But when the trigger is pulled, the paper or plastic wadding is ejected from the barrel with enough force that it can be lethal at close range, as proved to be the case in the death of an actor in 1984. In another on-set accident in 1993, the actor Brandon Lee was killed when a bullet was left in a prop gun.

Gun safety protocol on sets in the US has dramatically improved since then, said Steven Hall, a veteran director of photography in the UK.

But he said one of the riskiest positions to be in was operating the camera — noting that a person would be in the line of fire in gripping scenes where someone appeared to point a gun at the audience.

Hutchins, 42, was airlifted to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Souza, 48, was taken by ambulance to a medical centre.

“The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event,” International Cinematographers Guild president John Lindley and executive director Rebecca Rhine said in a statement.

A distraught Alec Baldwin in the car park outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office
A distraught Alec Baldwin in the car park outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

Sheriff’s deputies responded at about 2pm to the film set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch after 911 calls described a person being shot there, Mr Rios said.

The ranch has been used in dozens of films, including the recent Tom Hanks Western News Of The World.

“This investigation remains open and active,” Mr Rios said in a statement.

“No charges have been filed in regard to this incident. Witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives.”

Hutchins, a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute, worked as director of photography on the 2020 action film Archenemy, starring Joe Manganiello. She was named a “rising star” by American Cinematographer in 2019.

“I’m so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set,” said Archenemy director Adam Egypt Mortimer on Twitter.

Security workers at the entrance to the film set
Security workers at the entrance to the film set (Cedar Attanasio/AP)

“She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film.”

Manganiello called Hutchins “an incredible talent” and “a great person” on his Instagram account. He said he was lucky to have worked with her.

Hutchins had Ukrainian citizenship, according to Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko. The country’s consulate in San Francisco was clarifying what had happened and was working together with police.

Baldwin teamed up as a producer previously with Souza on the 2019 film Crown Vic which starred Thomas Jane as a veteran Los Angeles police officer on a manhunt for two violent bank robbers. Souza’s first credited film, 2010’s Hanna’s Gold, was a treasure hunt adventure featuring Luke Perry.

Production was halted on Rust. The film is about a 13-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother following the death of their parents in 1880s Kansas, according to the Internet Movie Database website. The teenager goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.

In 1993, Brandon Lee, son of martial arts star Bruce Lee, died after being hit by a .44-calibre bullet while filming a death scene for the movie The Crow. The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but a post-mortem examination revealed a bullet lodged near his spine.

Aerial image showing Santa Fe County Sheriff’s officers at the scene
Aerial image showing Santa Fe County Sheriff’s officers at the scene (KOAT 7 News via AP)

A Twitter account run by Brandon Lee’s sister Shannon said: “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on Rust. No-one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

In 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun blank while pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum on the set of the television series Cover Up.

Such shootings have also happened during historical re-enactments. In 2015, an actor staging a historical gunfight in the Old West town of Tombstone, Arizona, was shot and wounded with a live round during a show that was supposed to use blanks.