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Family survives lightning

Katie Redding
Aspen Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesMountain Rescue Aspen volunteers prepare their gear for a rescue operation Sunday afternoon at the American Lake trailhead on Castle Creek Road, 10 miles south of Aspen. A family of five was struck by lightning while hiking nearly a mile from the trailhead. Two were transported to Aspen Valley Hospital.
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ASPEN, Colorado ” An Idaho family hiking the American Lake trail south of Aspen survived a lightning strike early Sunday afternoon.

All five family members on the trail, which starts about 11 miles up Castle Creek Road, were hit “to some degree,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Gibson. A 15-year-old girl who lost consciousness was successfully revived through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, bystanders said, while a 17-year old boy sustained burns to the soles of his feet.

The family was about a mile and a half from the trailhead when the lightning struck. They were not above treeline, said Tim Lamb, a U.S. Forest Service ranger.



By the time Aspenites Ruth and Bob Wade came upon the family, the parents were already performing CPR on their daughter, said Ruth Wade. She ran to the lodge at Toklat, farther up Castle Creek Road, to call for help, and Bob Wade drove directly to Aspen Valley Hospital, also to alert rescuers. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office received the call just after 2 p.m.

Gerry Sullivan of Aspen also helped perform CPR and with later rescue efforts. The daughter was “doing great,” he said, adding that she knew where she was and who she was.

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Aspen residents Karl and Vanessa Adams came upon the scene later and also offered assistance.

“They were all pretty shaken,” Karl said.

The Adamses, who also were on the trail when the lightning struck, waited out the storm in some trees. The lightning was so close “you couldn’t even count to one” between it and the thunder, Karl Adams said.



According to the National Weather Association, if five seconds can be counted between lightning and thunder, the lightning is about one mile away. The less time between the lightning and thunder, the closer the lightning is.

Flight for Life, initially put on standby, was later called off. Skies still were dark when Mountain Rescue-Aspen arrived. In staggered groups, 25 members of Mountain Rescue and several Forest Service personnel hiked up the trail with equipment to carry the injured out.

However, they found the family already hiking down the trail, Gibson said. An ambulance transported the two victims to the hospital in Aspen.

While Aspen has experienced stable weather so far this summer, the area is “getting into the summer thunderstorm pattern,” Lamb said.

He wasn’t sure how many people are hit by lightning every year in the Aspen area, but he said there seems to be a strike every couple of years. Fellow forest ranger Kevin Warner said he believed the last time lightning struck someone in the area was two years ago, near Marble.

Both rangers cautioned people to get on the trail early in the day to avoid storms and lightning.

Those caught in a storm should spread their group out to avoid several people being injured by the same strike, they said. They warned people not to stand next to the only small clump of trees in a clearing.

CPR should be administered if a lightning victim is not breathing, as there is a good chance the person can be resuscitated, Warner said.

Hikers should also carry emergency equipment such as a first aid kit with a CPR face mask, rain gear, headlamps, warm layers, matches or a lighter, and extra food and water.

Warner noted that many hikers like to “go really light” these days. That style might be fine “up Smuggler,” he said, referring to a popular hike on the edge of Aspen, but he said people should consider carrying emergency gear for longer hikes.

Both also warned hikers about another current hiking danger: high water in local creeks and rivers.

“Don’t assume you can cross,” Lamb said.


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