coming back alive
Clear Skies, Fatal Strike

Fredericton, New Brunswick: A man who watched a young girl be struck dead by lightning on a soccer field says the weather was clear and the fatal strike came out of nowhere.

Soccer spectator Stephen Harris was watching the under-14 girls championship game under blue skies, and says fans and players had no warning bad weather was on the way. He says everyone was focused on the game between Fredericton and Maine, and there was no talk of cancelling the final match.

Sarah McLain was tragically killed in a lightning strike

Harris says he felt the lightning before he saw it hit the ground. "I felt a sudden tingling, I guess and electrical current, followed by the lightning bolt, and following that, everybody in the near vicinity of the strike was on the ground."

Lightning struck the 14-year-old soccer player just before 3 p.m., killing her and injurying about 20 others.

Some witnesses said they heard thunder in the distance before the tragedy happened.

Environment Canada meteorologist Dave Phillips explains that people must heed warning signs. "When there is clearly some warning, don't wait for the rains. If you hear any thunder at all, even just a peal in the distance, you are at risk."

The lightning victim, Sarah Elizabeth McLain, was playing in a championship game at Nashwaaksis field, when the strike occurred.

Paramedics revived the girl at the scene, but she died later from effects of the strike.

Fredericton police say more than 20 other people were affected by the lightning strike, including a 16-year-old linesman who was knocked unconscious.

All were taken to hospital for treatment. Three, including the linesman, were held overnight for observation.

Coffin says he doesn't believe the accident could have been prevented. "The safety of the children playing the game is always primary," he says. "There is simply no other way to prepare for something that is essentially a freak of nature. If there is even a hint of weather, especially lightning, then we shut things down."

Phillips says about thirty per cent of the people killed in lightning strikes are on sports playing fields. He says the best place to take cover is inside a car. "And another thing, he says, "always know where a safe haven should be." 

It Came Out of Nowhere

struck by lightning while hiking with several others from Montana and Boulder, Colorado.

The group split off from a larger group and was heading back to the trailhead when Wiper was hit by lightning.

Wiper, shown here, worked to save Native land from oil drilling.
Kirsten Rose, 31, and her sister, Alissa Rose, 28, were hiking alongside Wiper when the strike happened.

"It just came out of nowhere," Bernie Rose, Kirsten and Alissa's father said Monday morning.

The three were in a group of trees when the lightning hit, he said.

"They were on their way back, about 15 minutes from the trailhead and Alissa said they heard thunder in the distance," Bernie Rose said. "All of a sudden, they were all three on the ground."

Alissa got up, attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Wiper and, when that was unsuccessful, ran down the trail to get help.

Paramedics drove up a logging road and attempted CPR on Wiper but were unsuccessful.

Kirsten suffered a broken arm and Alissa apparently suffered a perforated eardrum, Rose said.

Bernie Rose, who was chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter for part of Mary Wiper's tenure, remembered her as a smart, organized and dedicated worker.

"It was just a really good feeling working with her," he said. "She just had a dedication and was really good dealing with people."

Indoor Safety

There are three main ways lightning enters homes and buildings:

  1. A direct strike

  2. Through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure

  3. Through the ground

Regardless of the method of entrance, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, and radio/television reception systems. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Indoor Precautions:

  • Before the storm hits, disconnect electrical appliances including radios and television sets. Do not touch them during the storm.

  • Don't go outside unless absolutely necessary.

  • Keep away from doors, windows, fireplaces, and anything that will conduct electricity, such as radiators, stoves, sinks, and metal pipes. Keep as many walls as possible between you and the outside.

  • Don't handle electrical equipment or telephones. Use battery operated appliances only. Phone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries. Lightning can travel long distances in both phone and electrical wires, particularly in rural areas.

  • Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls


Maria's Story
My name is María Cristina and I am 9 years old. I live in Bogota, Colombia and I would like to share with you my experience of being struck by lightning.

Three years ago playing in a park with a friend we were both hit by lightning. It had been a warm and sunny day until dark storm clouds started rolling in very quickly. I thought nothing of it and I continued to play with my friend close up to a tall pine tree.

I can not remember anything about my accident but I do recall waking up in hospital wondering what had happened to me. I opened my eyes slightly, saw my mother and asked for breakfast not knowing I had been unconscious in ICU for over three days.

I found I had first degree burns on most of the right side of my body, with small second-degree burns on my chest, shoulder and right leg. The space between all my toes had cracked and everything hurt very badly. Getting hit by lightning hurts a lot.

My skin has healed very well but I still carry small scars from the second-degree burns, which are now really starting to fade away. My eyes were also burnt but they got better quite quickly. I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes but they have grown back nicely after having them trimmed a few times. I still visit the eye doctor every 6 months or so, as I was left with a small Cataract in my right eye and it will need monitoring for quite some time.

I left the hospital 5 days after I was hit, spent a week at home with my parents, recuperating from my burns and then went back to school.

I still keep the clothes I was wearing that day. My jacket has a large black hole in its left shoulder, my pants and socks melted and look and feel like cardboard and my sneakers just blew up.

I am very lucky to be alive. My heart stopped beating when I was hit and I was fortunate there was a doctor close by to revive me. Lightning is dangerous and deadly. When you see a storm coming your way it is better to get indoors or seek shelter immediately.



Lightning strikes the earth an average of 1000 times per second.
How Far Away is It?

To judge how close lightning is, count the seconds between the flash and the thunder clap. Each second represents about 300 metres. If you can count less than 30 seconds between the lightning strike and the thunder, this means that the storm is less than 10 km away and there is an 80% chance the next strike will happen within that 10 km. If you count less than 30 seconds, take shelter, preferably in a house or all-metal automobile (not a convertible top) or in a low-lying area.

Note that lightning may strike several kilometres away from the parent cloud. Precautions should be taken even if the thunderstorm is not directly overhead.

Lightning Kills

Lightning can kill either because of the body's reaction to the intense heat (causing deep burns, swelling and other problems that can be immediately life threatening, especially if it injures the brain or other vital organs), or by causing problems with the electrical conduction system in the heart, causing heart arrhythmias.

Typical findings on a person who has been hit by lightning include red branching marks on the skin, as well as entrance and exit burns.

The entrance burn occurs where the lightning strikes. The electricity (along with the very high heat it generates) is conducted through the body to ground, and so an exit burn occurs at the point where the electricity exits the body. This can be at the point where the person was touching another electrical conductor (the hand, if they are touching a piece of metal) or on the feet if the electricity exits straight to the ground.

About a third of people hit by lightning die. Almost two thirds of the deaths occur within an hour of being hit, and three quarters of survivors suffer some permanent damage.

Over 90 percent of deaths from lightning occur from May to September (when thunderstorms are more common), and around 75 percent between noon and 6 p.m. (this is the time most lightning occurs). Around half of victims from lightning strikes are engaged in outdoor recreational activities (boating, golf or other outdoor sports), with another 25 percent engaged in outdoor work.

On average, 6 Canadians and 67 Americans are killed by lightning strikes each year and hundreds more are injured.
When Am I In Danger?

Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder. Lightning can travel sideways for up to 10 miles. Even when the sky looks blue and clear, be cautious.


The first stroke of lightning is just as deadly as the last. If the sky looks threatening, take shelter before hearing thunder.


  • Take appropriate shelter when you can count 30 seconds or less between lightning and thunder.

  • Remain sheltered for 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder.

Outdoor Safety

If caught outdoors:

  • Keep a safe distance from tall objects, such as trees, hilltops, and telephone poles.

  • Avoid projecting above the surrounding landscape. Seek shelter in low-lying areas such as valleys, ditches and depressions.

  • Stay away from water. Don't go boating or swimming if a storm threatens and land as quickly as possible if you are caught out on the water.

  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as tractors, golf carts, golf clubs, metal fences, motorcycles, lawnmowers and bicycles. Swinging a golf club or holding an umbrella or fishing rod are particularly dangerous activities. Take off shoes with metal cleats.

  • You are safe inside a car during lightning, but don't park near or under trees or other tall objects which may topple over during a storm. Be wary of downed power lines which may be touching your car. You are safe inside the car, but you may receive a shock if you step outside.

  • In a forest, seek shelter in a low-lying area under a thick growth of small trees or bushes.

  • Keep alert for flash floods, sometimes caused by heavy rainfall, if seeking shelter in a ditch or low-lying area.

  • If caught in a level field far from shelter and you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to hit you. Kneel on the ground immediately, with feet together, placing your hands on your knees and bending forward. Don't lie flat, this makes you a larger target.

  • If you are in a group in the open, spread out keeping people several yards apart.

I'm Hit! I'm Hit!

If someone is struck by lightning:

  • People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely.

  • Call for help. Get someone to dial 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number.

  • The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their body. Check for burns in both places.

  • Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR.

strike victim
A lightning-strike victim will have burn marks at the point of entry.