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Description of the Case
The case describes a death that occurred from electrocution while attempting to catch a cut down kite using a Laggi. The electrocution occurred while the 25-year-old male was taking part in a kite flying competition.
This game is popular in many areas of the world. In India, the kites are made out of paper and the attached to a string made of cotton or other synthetic fabrics.
The sport entails flying the kite in a certain way and using strong rough string that has enough tensile strength to be able to cut the string of a fellow competitor’s kite. To attain this, the kite is coated with rough material such as ground glass.
The competition consists of three main categories of people: the flier, launcher and winder, some of whom run behind the kite. In a number of instances, the string comes into contact with uninsulated power lines.
However, no fatalities are reported since the strings are made of threads and the game is not played whilst it is raining. To improve the chasers’ chances of catching cut down kites, they use a Laggi to tangle the string.
The Laggi is made of a bamboo stick on which dried tree branches are attached, the length of the Laggi can be increased by tying together two or more bamboo sticks1.
In the current case, the male was electrocuted when a thin copper wire that had been used as a string touched an uninsulated power transmission line with a current of 240V at 50 Hz.
The copper wire was similar to that used for winding electric motor pumps. The victim had not seen the copper wire that ultimately entangled the right ear after scraping his right shoulder, right side of the neck and face.
The autopsy examination showed no damage to the victim’s clothes. However, gastric substance and fecal matter had washed out. The right knee had remains of mud, probably due to a fall since the electrocution occurred after rain.
The areas of the body that had come in contact with the wire (right cheek and right ear) showed symptoms of severe burns characterized by a white colored desquamation surrounded by a brown color.
The areas adjacent to the burn areas had parallel lines of singed skin. Large portions of the skin had visible erythematous base and burnt keratin2.
The scalp hair on the right mastoid area was also burnt, however, internal organs were not affected. X-ray analysis of the residues found in the affected areas showed the presence of copper while a histological assessment of the skin from burnt areas exhibited an epidermis split along the stratum spinosum.
In some parts, the dermis and epidermis were divided. The epidermal cells either exhibited no structural alterations, or exhibited streaming of the nuclei involving different widths of the epidermis beginning from the basal layer. There was consistency of the dermis and deep-lying tissues with increased tissue eosinophilia.
For these symptoms, tests and observations, it was concluded that the death occurred from electrocution3.
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Lessons Learnt from the Accident
This case analysis illustrates the dangers that participants in the kite flying game are exposed to. The case also shows how easily death can occur from exposure to alternating current. The author writes that most accidents arising from electrical injuries are normally deadly.
Death from electrical accident normally occurs because of paralysis of the respiratory system. Alternating current normally has a frequency of 50-60 cycles per second and is more likely to cause death than direct current.
Due to its alternating motion, the current tends to generate impulsive continuous spasm of the nearby muscles on the point at which it enters the body, this lengthens the period of contact with the conductor hence the quantity of current flowing through the body.
The external look of the injury depends on the place and size of the area that came in contact with the conductor, and the quantity of electricity that entered the body. A small conductor such as a wire results in a small hole in the contact area, in contrast, a large contact area may result in an electrocution.
The amount of heat generated at the point at which electricity comes into contact with the body is dependant on the resistance offered by the tissue. Much of the human body’s resistance to electricity comes from the skin and the space between the skin and the external conductor.
Hence, electro-thermal injuries are normally restricted to the skin and the immediate subjacent tissues. The case also shows that thin skin is less resistant to current flow than thick skin.
For this reason, electrical contact with the arm or face, where the skin is thinnest, is normally grave, the closeness of these body parts to the heart and the central nervous system worsens such accidents. The amount of resistance offered by the skin increases with increase in contact area.
However, internal organs rarely show symptoms of electrocution because they offer less resistance to current flow, hence, current tends to flow in many directions4.
The case shows the risks involved in kite flying, either as a sport or for fun. In a few cases, metals are used instead of a cotton or synthetic fabric string since they are stronger. Besides, it is much easier to have access to copper wire as they can be gotten from obsolete electrical motors.
Participants in the game frequently forget about the fact that the wire could come into contact with power transmission lines because they do not have information on the risks involved in the game, and because electrical power suppliers do not have any awareness programs.
Citizens in developing and underdeveloped countries are not informed of the dangers of replacing the string with a metal wire, this should be effected immediately5.
Improvements in safety procedures
Kite flying can be quite dangerous to the participants and can occasionally lead to death, as shown in this case study. Hence, safety procedures must be instituted and the participants made aware of the dangers and how they can be avoided.
The most fatal danger to kite flyers is electric shock electrocution when the metal wires touch on uninsulated power transmission lines, this can cause bodily injuries, and in serious cases, death. To prevent electrical injuries, kites should not be flown near power lines.
However, should the kite move close to a power line or even touch it, it should not be retrieved and the wire attached to it should not be touched. The local power supplier should be contacted. Since wet string can conduct electricity, participants are advised that kites should only be flown on a dry day.
This can also prevent accidents arising from lightning shocks. Kite strings should only be made out of strings and not wires.
Since the direction of movement of a kite is controlled by wind and the kite flyers run behind them, the risk of personal injury is high. Personal injuries result from the participant’s inattention to their surroundings6.
Injuries include falls from rooftops and uneven ground and collision with objects such as trees and other players. Since the strings are normally coated with abrasive substances, players may sustain injuries from cuts or abrasions on their hands or when they come into contact with the strings7.
To prevent personal injury, fliers and other players should wear gloves to prevent hand injuries, a person should get into good shape and train adequately on how to maneuver the kite, and players must take their time to have a general overview of the terrain of the surrounding land before the start of the game.
Kite flying can be dangerous to other players and non-players too. It can distract drivers and when flown close to airports, can impede visibility and hamper flight operations. Large kites can cause injury to people when they are cut down, a player can also injure others while attempting to entangle a cut down kite using a Laggi.
To prevent these injuries, kites should be flown away from main roads and highways. Flying of large kites is prohibited within 2 miles from airports. Laggis should be of light weight and easily held, besides, their lengths must be monitored to prevent injury to other players.
Pelham, D. (2000). Kites. New York: Overlook Press.
Tiwari, V. K., and Sharma, D. (1999). Kite-flying: a unique but dangerous mode of electrical injury in children. Burns, Volume 25, Issue 6, Pages 537-539.
Wankhede, A. G., and Sariya, D. R. (2006). An electrocution by metal kite line. Forensic Science International, 163 (2006) 141–143.
1 Ashesh Gunwantrao Wanhede and Dinesh R. Sariya, An electrocution by metal kite line. An electrocution by metal kite line, Forensic Science International, 163 (2006), pg. 1
2 Ibid., pg. 2.
3 Ibid., pg. 3.
4 Ibid., pg. 3
5 Vinay K. Tiwari and Devesh Sharma, Kite-flying: a unique but dangerous mode of electrical injury in children, Forensic Science International, 163 (2006), 1999, pg. 142
6 Ibid., pg. 141
7 David Pelham, Kites, 2000, pg. 200