1 Marine Dies, 2 Wounded in Grenade Launcher Blast

Times Staff Writer

One Marine was killed and two others were wounded Wednesday when a grenade launcher exploded during target practice at a remote rifle range.

The 2:15 p.m. accident occurred when the 40-millimeter, high explosive projectile exploded shortly after an instructor had helped a private load the grenade launcher. The private was holding the weapon when it exploded, base officials said.

Officials said the two men were rushed from the range to a base hospital and then carried by Life Flight helicopter to Palomar Hospital in Escondido.

The instructor, Sgt. Fredrick Nunez, 26, of Cucamonga, died of massive head and chest wounds about two hours after the mishap according to base spokesman Gunnery Sgt. John Farrell.

Doctors amputated the badly injured left hand of the private, who was listed in serious condition at Palomar Hospital. The private, 20, from Illinois also suffered burns and minor lacerations over his entire body, Farrell said. His name was not released pending notification of relatives.

Sgt. Robert L. Hodges, 30, of North Carolina, was treated by doctors at a base clinic where small shrapnel fragments were removed from his back.

Hodges was serving as an instructor for the training exercise when the incident occurred at Range 210 Charlie, a remote facility set amid the grassy, gently rolling hills on Camp Pendleton's northern edge about five miles east of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The more than 100 Marines in a company were receiving instruction on the use of the grenade launcher. The company's commanding officer and a range safety officer were on duty when the incident occurred, Farrell said.

Base officials were at a loss to explain what caused the accident. Farrell said witnesses suggested that there could have been a mechanical malfunction in the M-16A2, a combination rifle and grenade launcher. A final determination, however, will not be made until a thorough investigation takes place, he said.

Farrell described the launcher as being about two feet long. The weapon, which is attached to an M-16 rifle, fires a single high-explosive round that is snapped into the barrel. It is cocked by using a pump action, he said.

Similar grenade launchers at the base will not be fired until the cause of the explosion is determined, a base official said.

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