Use of Grenade Launcher Halted While Death Probed

The type of grenade launcher that killed a Marine instructor here Wednesday is central to Marine tactics, but use of the weapon has been suspended until an investigation of the accident is complete, officials said Thursday.

A round of ammunition exploded inside an M203 launcher, an an M-16 rifle attachment that fires grenades up to 350 yards. The blast killed Sgt. Frederick Nunez and injured Pvt. Jeffrey L. Stout, 20, of Illinois. Stout, who was loading the launcher, had his left hand amputated above the wrist at Palomar Hospital in Escondido and suffered burns and cuts. He is in stable condition.

"To our knowledge there has never been an incident of this kind with this particular weapon at the base," Marine spokeswoman Mitzi Frank said. "At this time we still don't know the cause. The round prematurely detonated while it was in the tube."

Gunnery Sgt. John Farrell said the weapon was second only to the M-16 in combat importance and is used propel 40-millimeter grenades beyond the range of those thrown by hand.

"To the Marine Corps mission it's very, very important," he said.

He said that although use of the M203 and the lot of ammunition the grenade came from has been suspended, the Marine Corps will continue to train with other grenade launchers.

He said the last fatalities at the base occurred in an October armory explosion that killed two Marines and injured three others.

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