Austrian hiker survives lightning strike in California

/ 06:47 AM August 25, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — An Austrian man hiking 9,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada was on a peak taking a photo when he was struck by a lightning bolt that blasted away his clothes, burned a hole in one of his shoes and left him with severe burns.

Mathias Steinhuber, who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with his girlfriend and friend Carla Elvidge had an entry wound on his hand and an exit wound on his foot, Elvidge told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Fairfield, California.


“He was taking a picture and the next thing I know, I see this white flash, like an explosion,” Elvidge said.

Steinhuber had major burns throughout his body and was struggling to walk when a helicopter crew rescued him Tuesday from an exposed peak among the rugged mountains near Donner Summit, the California Highway Patrol Valley Air Operations said.


Elvidge said she, Steinhuber and his girlfriend, Kathrin Klausner, were hiking from Donner Summit to Squaw Valley and that all are avid hikers.

The couple was visiting her in the Lake Tahoe area, in Truckee, California, and there was no rain or lightning when they set off on their hike, though Elvidge said she could see clouds above Reno, some 50 miles away.

Steinhuber was hiking ahead of his friends and had reached the top of Tinkers Knob, a bare peak with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the forests below and was taking a photo when the women heard a large crack and saw a white flash.

Steinhuber was thrown away and his shoes and all his clothes, including his underwear, were ripped off from his body. The lightning bolt singed his clothes and burned a gaping hole through one of his tennis shoes.

A second lightning bolt struck next to Klausner, who felt the electricity in her body, and the two decided to take shelter and call 911, Elvidge said.

A helicopter landed on Tinker Knob, which is at an elevation of 8,949 feet, and dropped off a paramedic who tended to Steinhuber. He was taken to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee and then flown to the University of California, Davis Hospital Burn Center, where he was listed in fair condition on Thursday.

“It was a terrible experience. One of those things that you never want to be near or involved in,” Elvidge said.


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