Tourist hit by lightning while hiking woke up with 'blood everywhere'

2017-08-25 13:23
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Sacramento, California  — An Austrian man hiking 2743 meters 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.

WATCH: Airport ground worker survives intense lightening strike 

Struck from tip to toe

Mathias Steinhuber, who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with his girlfriend and their friend, had an entry wound on his head and an exit wound on his foot.

"It was like in a dream," Steinhuber told The Associated Press in an interview at the University of California, Davis Hospital Burn Center. "I woke up. I had blood everywhere, my clothes were ripped apart. At some distance I heard my girlfriend scream my name. My first conclusion was that I probably fell down the mountain."

Steinhuber says he doesn't remember being struck. While he could see a thunderstorm far in the distance, he said there was no rain or lightning nearby.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a popular hiking spot for many hikers - testing one's abilities and stamina. 

MT. HOOD | Finally hiking w/@cotezi again after 500 or so miles and her new @palantepacks up by Mt. Hood today. #freethehip

A post shared by Justin "2Taps" Helmkamp (@j_helmkamp) on

Steinhuber had burns throughout his body and was struggling to walk when a helicopter crew rescued him on 22 August from an exposed peak among the rugged mountains near Donner Summit, the California Highway Patrol Valley Air Operations said.

The couple are from Innsbruck in Austria. The two were visiting a friend, Carla Elvidge in Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe. Elvidge says she, Steinhuber and his girlfriend, Kathrin Klausner were hiking from Donner Summit to Squaw Valley and that all are avid hikers.

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.

"He was taking a picture and the next thing I know, I see this white flash, like an explosion," Elvidge told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Fairfield, California.

Be cautious 

Travellers are advised to be cautious when taking selfies, photos or 'epic' videos while travelling - specifically in nature and around wildlife. Although we may be tempted to go the extra mile for that wonderful picture that is bound to get us a lot of insta-likes - remember that mother nature is unpredictable. 

READ: Selfies with seal pups a no - no

It is important to be aware of one's surroundings. #Doitfothegram is not always the best idea and could land you in a lot of danger. This includes selfies with animals, as we are unaware of what their next move may be. 

The power of a lightning bolt

Steinhuber was thrown and his shoes and all his clothes, including his underwear, were ripped off from his body. The lightning bolt also 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. The two decided to take shelter and call for help, Elvidge says.

A helicopter landed on Tinker Knob, which is at an elevation of 2726 meters. The helicopter 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. He was listed in fair condition on 24 August. 

Elvidge and Klausner hiked out - uncertain whether Steinhuber would survive or endure debilitating injuries, Klausner says.

Steinhuber and Klausner say they feel extraordinarily lucky that he survived and are grateful for the quick response from rescuers.

"Somebody told me the odds are higher winning the lottery than getting struck by lightning," Steinhuber says. "I would've rather won the lottery."

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