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Documents reveal electrocutions’ details

Mar. 23, 2013 - 11:27AM   |  
Marine Cpl. Jon-Luke Bateman, 22, of Tulsa, Okla., and Lance Cpl. Kenneth E. Cochran, 20, of Wilder, Idaho.
Marine Cpl. Jon-Luke Bateman, 22, of Tulsa, Okla., and Lance Cpl. Kenneth E. Cochran, 20, of Wilder, Idaho. ()
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Lance Cpl. Kenneth Cochran was on his way to refuel an electric generator at a patrol base in Afghanistan when disaster struck: He brushed a low-hanging wire and was electrocuted.

That Jan. 14, 2012, incident in Helmand province’s Musa Qala district resulted in a brilliant flash of light at about 10 p.m. that other Marines saw from guard posts. But Cochran, a water support specialist with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, out of Okinawa, Japan, wasn’t found dead until the following morning, when a corporal went to check on the generator because power was out in the nearby combat operations center.

The story gets worse from there. When Cochran was discovered at about 7 a.m., Cpl. Jon-Luke Bateman and a few other Marines attended to him. Bateman, an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., knelt beside him to cover his remains with a blanket. When he stood, Bateman also came into contact with a live wire, becoming the second Marine electrocuted on the base in less than 12 hours.

Those are among the findings of an investigation conducted into the two deaths, according to documents released to Marine Corps Times through the Freedom of Information Act.

The incident highlights the dangers that electricity poses in Afghanistan, where the Afghan-run power grid is unpredictable and poorly maintained. Bateman and Cochran were among five Marines electrocuted in northern Helmand province by low-hanging wires between November 2011 and June 2012. The others are:

• Cpl. Adam Buyes, a radio operator with Okinawa-based 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, electrocuted Nov. 26, 2011, in Sangin district when his 3-foot radio antenna hit a wire that was hanging about 8 feet high.

• Cpl. Connor Lowry, an ammunition technician with Pendleton’s Golf Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, died in a vehicle gun turret March 1, 2012, after a radio antenna touched a low-hanging power line in Kajaki district, Marines in his unit told Marine Corps Times.

• Cpl. Anthony Servin, of Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, killed June 8 in Helmand after his radio antenna touched a low-hanging power line during a foot patrol, a Marine official said.

The incidents resulted in training and logistical changes in Afghanistan. Investigators recommended that the power lines on the undisclosed patrol base where Cochran and Bateman died be raised to at least 15 feet, military documents said. Three sets of orders focused on preventing electrocution also were issued by Marine commanders between January and June 2012, a Marine spokesman said last summer.

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