The Man Who Survived Seven Lightning Strikes

There is a saying that “lightning never strikes the same place twice” (it’s a myth, by the way) but there’s no saying which said that you can’t be struck by lightning thrice… or seven times. According to the National Weather Service, the odds of being hit by lightning in your lifetime in the US is 1 in 13,500 and the odds of becoming a lightning victim in a given year is 1 in 1,083,000. So, being hit by lightning seven times in your lifetime seems almost improbable but somebody unlucky (or lucky) enough had beaten the odds.

Roy Sullivan (1912 – 1983), a park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, was hit by lightning a total of seven times between 1942 and 1977 and lived to tell the tale. This earned him nicknames such as “human lightning rod” and “human lightning conductor”.

The Strikes

  1. The first strike happened in April 1942 while he was sheltering from a storm in a fire lookout tower. Unfortunately, the tower was just recently built and still didn’t have a lightning rod at the time. Sullivan recalled that the tower was hit by lightning seven to eight times which caused the tower to start burning. He was struck by lightning just as he went outside of the tower to escape the fire. “It burned a half-inch strip all the way down my right leg, and knocked my big toe off,” Sullivan said. “My boot was full of blood, and it ran out through a hole in the sole.” He considered this incident his worst lightning strike.
  2. Almost 30 years later, Sullivan received a second lightning strike in July 1969. While driving his truck on a mountainous road, some trees on one side of the road were hit by lightning, then deflected to another tree on the other side of the road. It just so happened that his truck was in the center of it all and his windows were rolled down. The lighting strike knocked him unconscious and burned his eyebrows and eyelashes. This caused his still moving truck to almost fall off a cliff.
  3. In 1970, while tending the garden in his front yard, lightning struck a nearby power transformer and then bounced to him, searing his left shoulder slightly.
  4. In 1972, when he was on duty. Sullivan said there was no storm and only raining lightly at that time when suddenly, he heard a loud sound of thunder and the next thing he knew, his hair was already on fire. He went to the restroom and tried to use the tap to extinguish the fire but his head couldn’t fit under the tap. So out of options, he used a wet paper towel to do the job. After the incident, Sullivan became paranoid every time it rains, which is understandable. He believed that lightning is somehow attracted to him. Also, he began to carry a can of water wherever he goes.
  5. Sullivan was hit by lightning again on August 7, 1973. When he was patrolling the park, he noticed the cloud of storm forming and immediately drove away. He swore that he saw the clouds somehow following him and even saw the lightning bolt that hit him. The lightning burned his hair, traveled to his shoulders and feet, and knocked off one of his shoes away. He then used the can of water he always carried with him to smother the fire.
  6. On June 5, 1976, while walking in the park, he saw a cloud which he claimed was following him. He tried to outrun it but he was still struck by lightning, injuring his ankle.
  7. On June 25, 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning one last time while fishing. The lightning struck his head which caused his hair to catch fire. It then traveled to his body which seared his chest and stomach. Running to his car, a bear suddenly arrived and tried to steal his catch. So he took a tree branch and hit the bear to scare it off!

It’s no surprise that some people tend to avoid Sullivan, especially during storms. Sullivan once said, “For instance, I was walking with the Chief Ranger one day when lightning struck way off (in the distance). The Chief said, ‘I’ll see you later.’”

Sullivan said that while he was “officially” first hit by lightning in 1942, he was actually first hit by lighting at a much earlier time. One time during his childhood, while helping his father cut the field, his scythe was struck by lightning, though he was uninjured. He said that there is no way to prove it since it was undocumented so he did not bother to claim it.

His wife was also hit by lightning while hanging clothes in their backyard. He was also there helping his wife but fortunately for him, the lightning didn’t hit him.

He died on September 28, 1983, due to a gunshot wound. It was reported that he committed suicide over an unrequited love.

References

Lightning Strikes 4 Times

Lightning Strikes: A Man Hit Seven Times

Lightning Safety Tips and Resources

 

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