Bystanders' CPR helped save Glacier lightning victims

Patients in stable condition in hospital

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Two adults and a child were struck by lightning Wednesday afternoon while hiking on the St. Mary Falls Trail on the east side of Glacier National Park.

The trio — a man from Kalispell, a woman from Missoula and a young boy — were on their way back from a hike to Virginia Falls when the lightning storm hit.

After a complicated rescue operation, a man and woman, each 23 years old, and the child were taken by ground ambulance and ALERT helicopter to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, according to Denise Germann, Glacier Park's public affairs officer.

Germann said on Thursday that visitors who arrived at the St. Mary Visitor Center soon after the incident reported seeing lightning strikes.

“They remember very vividly seeing what looked like two lightning strikes” in the vicinity of the incident, Germann said.

“It was a quick-moving storm, maybe 10 to 15 minutes of rain,” Germann said.

Responders came to the scene from both sides of the park and the visitors who initially helped the victims were critical, Germann said.

“Some bystanders performed CPR, which was a life-saving measure,” she said, adding that all three victims initially were unconscious.

A family member said park employees told him they believe the three were lying unconscious for about 15 minutes before they were found by other hikers.

On Thursday afternoon, hospital spokesman Jim Oliverson said the three victims “continue to be in serious but stable condition.”

He could not comment on the nature of their injuries, other than saying a “typical manifestation of it is they are confused. That’s primarily the result of this kind of injury.”

Hospital Nursing Supervisor Tracy Keller said lightning-strike victims can suffer burns, concussive effects or neuro-electrical effects on the heart, brain or other organs.

“In this case, there isn’t necessarily burns, just electrical,” she said. “They were close enough to suffer the ramifications of that electrical field ... They weren’t directly hit.”

The drama began to unfold around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday when a park interpretive ranger called park dispatch to say a group of hikers was believed to have been hit by lightning on the St. Mary Falls Trail.

The lightning victims were about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead.

Park crews and employees from all areas of Glacier responded, with park medics being flown to the scene. 

Park workers and Glacier County Sheriff’s Office personnel used litters to carry each person to the trailhead near Going-to-the-Sun Road, which was temporarily closed during the rescue operation.  

ALERT airlifted the child to Kalispell Regional while Glacier County Ambulance transported the two adult patients.  

ALERT returned and met the ground ambulance to pick up the man while the ambulance continued on to Kalispell with the woman. In addition to the Kalispell-based ALERT helicopter, the Mercy Flight helicopter from Great Falls had been requested but could not fly because of weather.

The lightning strike likely came from the severe storm system that pounded the Flathead Valley with rain and hail about an hour earlier. That storm moved off to the northeast toward Glacier Park.

St. Mary Falls is a popular destination for a short hike. The falls are less than a mile from Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail to Virginia Falls goes a half-mile beyond St. Mary Falls.

The trailhead is about 11 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Glacier National Park.


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