Marine death investigation focuses on electrocution

March 12, 2012 4:44:25 PM PDT
The Defense Department may be weeks away from releasing details in the death of Marine Corporal Conner Lowry, but it appears he was the victim of a battlefield accident in Afghanistan.

Until learning of his death while on patrol, Marine Corporal Lowry's family didn't know that he was working as a gunner, the person who operates an automatic weapon from a turret atop an armored humvee. Gunners are more exposed to small arms and roadside bombs because of where they sit.

Because 24-year-old Lowry was 6'5", he also was also at risk for something else -- low hanging power lines as his unit patrolled in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

For gunners in Afghanistan, low hanging power lines, fallen electric cables and exposed steel rods-or rebar-from buildings pose a major risk. Since 2002, dozens of U.S. gunners have been electrocuted or injured after being snagged by live electric lines. Defense department investigators are focusing on that possibility in Lowry's death, which officials say came as Lowry was "conducting combat operations."

In Iraq and Afghanistan, one fifth of all fatalities are the have been accidental or non-combat. For gunners, the constant threat from power lines is not new. In a 2004 "Stars and Stripes" article, a gunner says low-hanging wires will either pull gunners out of humvees or decapitate them if they're not careful.

Part of the problem is local residents who lose power will then tap into the electric main and string low hanging live wires to their homes.

Over the weekend as Lowry was laid to rest, his family and friends awaited official answers as to how he died. He is hailed as a hero just the same, but family members hope for some explanation as to his final moments.

Three years ago, the army began installing plastic piping around humvee turrets to prevent gunners from being electrocuted by low-hanging power lines. It isn't clear whether marine vehicles were also retrofitted that way-- nor is it known what kind of protection Corporal Lowry's humvee had or if.