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SA copper thieves bid for Darwin glory

Lesson in how electricity works learned a little too late

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Two South African men with an evidently scant knowledge of how electricity works were this morning killed while attempting to make off with copper power lines by pulling the cables with wires while standing on the ground.

According to the BBC, the pair aged between 25 and 30 made their pitch for Darwin Award immortality at first light today near Johannesburg. Percy Morokane of the Johannesburg Emergency Management Services told the Beeb that while copper theft is not "an everyday occurrence", it is a problem.

Scrap yards buy the half-inched metal and sell it abroad, although it often comes at a higher price to thieves, since "in 70 per cent of reported cases of cable theft, suspects are either killed or maimed", as Morokane explained.

He concluded: "It's a very tricky and dangerous exercise. They lack skill and expertise to work with electric equipment."

The problem of copper theft is fast becoming a world-wide issue, as prices skyrocket. As we reported last August, US communications services outfit Embarq went as far as to offer a $5,000 bounty to nail Las Vegas ne'er-do-wells who'd cost the company a cool $400,000 in swiped cables.

Wisely avoiding high-voltage installations, the perps apparently often "drive vans, don hard hats and scale telephone poles, in an attempt to blend in with legitimate telephone workers", before simply making off with their booty.

In Spain, meanwhile, organised gangs are increasingly targeting copper-rich transformer installations - mainly those used in rural areas to power irrigation pumping systems. While the thieves might get 400 or 500 Euros for their haul, the damage they cause in extracting the equipment often runs into thousands.

There's a recent report into just such a theft here (in Spanish, from the Correo de Zamora), which shows what was left after the copper bandits "cut the cables, totally dismantled the transformer and stole some components and the copper". ®

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