by Kieran McGovern Pre-Intermediate
In 1942 lightning struck Roy
C. Sullivan for the first time. The US
park ranger was working up in a
lookout tower when a bolt shot through
his leg. It knocked his big toenail off.
‘I was lucky,’ Roy told his friends. ‘I can live without one big toenail. And at least it won’t happen again! Lightning never strikes twice.’
Unfortunately this is not quite correct. Lightning is unlikely to hit the same spot on the ground twice. But tall buildings and structures are different. A 60-meter tower in Florida can expect a hit every year.
From then on Roy did stay away from towers. And for nearly thirty years nothing happened.
Then in 1969 Roy was driving along a mountain road during a storm. He thought he was safe inside his car. He was wrong.
The lightning bolt knocked Roy unconscious. It burned off his eyebrows. ‘Why me?’ Roy complained when he woke up in hospital. ‘This is the second time!’
Another strike happened just a year later. Roy was walking across his yard to get the mail. The lightning bolt burned left his shoulder.
Roy’s bad luck continued. In 1972 he was standing in the office at the ranger station. Perfectly safe? Not for Roy.
This time the lightning set his hair on fire. ‘This is not fair!’ cried Roy as he threw a bucket of water over his head.
It took a year for his hair to grow back. He began wearing a hat. Surely he was safe now?
The next strike went through Roy’s hat and set his hair on fire again. Throwing him out of his truck, it knocked his left shoe off and it burned his legs.
A sixth strike came on a campsite in 1976. This one injured his ankle.
The final lightning strike
occurred on a fishing trip in 1977. It sent Roy back to
hospital with chest and stomach burns.
Why did Roy suffer a record seven lightning strikes? Nobody knows for sure. Roy came from Virginia, in the south of the USA. Storms and lightning strikes are common in that part of the world. And Roy’s work did put him more at risk.
Perhaps it was just bad luck. But in a way Roy was a very lucky man. After all, he is the only person to survive seven lightning strikes. He died in 1983.