Lightning strikes the Air

To mark the 31st October, we’d like to share an incredible true story.

We were contacted a little while ago by a Marlon Richardson. He had recently returned from an expedition to Ecuador, which included trekking the Pasochoa volcano. Whilst descending from the crater at the summit, the weather turned and Marlon duly put on his waterproof jacket – our Air Jacket. As he went to put waterproof trousers on, he was struck by lightning.

Read his account below.

I have been interested in alternative travel / international adventure challenges for many years and after having participated in and organised a number of trips, got together with a group to arrange a trip to Ecuador (Quito to Coast – hiking, biking and rafting).

I found myself in Quito in early October with nine other friends. We had 10 days to get to Canoa on the West coast. We had local guides and back-up transport and had to begin the journey by going over a volcano range up to 5,000m so not too high but enough to be cautious. We planned in a warm-up hike to 4,200m to acclimatise on day 2 – this was to a very old dormant volcano called Pasochoa. The weather was fine and pretty much stayed OK as we neared the summit. A few of the group were lagging a little due to altitude so five of us went up ahead to get to the summit. As we approached the crater edge (just off the summit) we paused to take in the breathtaking views of unspoilt forest. We also noticed that the weather was starting to turn, so we agreed we should quickly ascend to the summit. Another 10 mins later and we had arrived at the top – but it was very cloudy. We took some photos and it immediately started to hail VERY hard.

It was at this point I put on my brand new Montane Air Jacket (purchased for the trip – never been worn). I had it zipped up fully with the hood up as the hail was intensive. We agreed that we ought to descend quickly, so I attempted to put my waterproof trousers on, as I didn’t want wet boots for the three hour descent and the rest of the trip. Evidently, this was a poor decision as the next thing I knew I fell to the ground facing upwards. I was probably unconscious for just one second, as I awoke just before my head hit the ground.

I could not feel anything from the neck down. My left arm was in a spasm and the jacket lining had been shredded to reveal my burned arm. I smelled burning everywhere (… me!) and my back felt like it was on fire. My head hurt from where I hit the rocks. I knew this was a really bad situation.


Marlon’s Air Jacket after being struck by lightning

I called for help (which was tricky given my voicebox had been affected) and my 19 year-old nephew (my only relative who was on the trip), who was just a few metres from me moments before, came over. He looked at me and he didn’t know what to say apart from cry for help. Help came fast as the other members of the group appeared. Moments later I then started to feel a tingling in my left finger and slowly into my arm. A wave of hope came over me and I started to feel warm inside – I felt like I might pull through this. We weren’t out of danger yet though, as more lightning was striking the summit – the group was ducking for cover and I was helpless to the elements hoping I wouldn’t be struck in the face. We managed to avoid a second strike.

It took 30 mins for the paralysis to subside. After 45 mins I was just about able to walk. It took us a further 1.5 hours to reach a rescue vehicle on the other side of the mountain. Then another hour to get to hospital. I was seen immediately and admitted under observation. Two days later I was discharged given a good prognosis of a full and speedy recovery. The lasting words from the Doctors in Quito was that I was “… extremely lucky”.

Having now returned to the UK, I realise that there is very little documented on lightning strikes. What I have ascertained though is that I experienced a direct strike (cloud to ground, which are quite rare (about 3-5%) and the most deadly). Most strikes (about 50-60%)  are via an object (e.g. a tree) with a side flash onto the victim. 1 in 10 strikes are fatal in the developed world and over 50% have lasting injuries. Aside from an immediate cardiac arrest, the worst type of strike is a direct hit into your head, or through your body into your heart or liver. This is where my Air Jacket comes in – I am certain that had I not had that good quality jacket on with the hood up I believe that I would be telling a different story. The lightning bolt entered my hand (not my head) and found its path over my body (not through it) to ground via my foot and a large hole in my boot.

Of course I can’t be 100%, but I am certain that without the hood design the lightning bolt would have struck me in the head.

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