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An investigator peers into the electrical manhole where a man was found dead. ((Doug Hanley/CBC))

Police are trying to figure out how a man died after he was found face down in about 15 centimetres of water at the bottom of a Calgary manhole Wednesday.

A passerby noticed a manhole with its heavy cover removed in a vacant lot on McDougall Road between 8th and 9th Street N.E. Wednesday morning and alerted ENMAX, the city-owned utility. The company then called 911.

"He's face down in about six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimetres) of water," said Jeff Budai, spokesman for the Calgary fire department. "He's been that way since we got here."

It doesn't appear that the man is an employee of the city or ENMAX, Budai added.

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ENMAX had to shut down power to the manhole before firefighters could remove the body. ((Doug Hanley/CBC))

It took three hours for ENMAX to shut down power to the electrical shaft and for crews to check the air quality before firefighters could recover the body safely.

Officials said they don't know what the man was doing in the manhole, how long he'd been there or how he died. An autopsy has been scheduled for Thursday.

However, there's evidence he may have been trying to steal copper wire in the shaft. Cut copper wire was visible around the manhole, and some tools were found at the scene.

The underground shaft, full of electrical cables, is about three metres deep and recently supplied power to a nearby linen factory that was torn down.