FRESNO, Calif. — After seven days of scrambling up and down canyons in the Sierra Nevada, the Boy Scouts were held up by a common summer nuisance in the mountains — a lightning storm.
In a wide, grassy meadow near Mt. Whitney, the five adults and seven teenagers set up two tarps, keeping away from granite outcroppings to stay as safe as they could from the lightning flashing across the sky.
Then a bolt of lightning hit one of the tarps, killing the troop leader instantly and claiming the life of a 13-year-old boy. Six others were injured.
The scout troop from St. Helena was just two days away from finishing the trip along the John Muir Trail — a 210-mile high-country route from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney.
“It’s horrible. It’s a fluke,” said Sue Collins, mother of 13-year-old Ryan Collins, who was kept alive on a ventilator for a day so that his organs could be donated. He died Friday night at a hospital.
Park officials said there was little else the troop could have done to prevent the tragedy.
“They did the best they could in the situation they were in,” park ranger Alex Picavet said. “They didn’t have metal poles, and stayed away from high points.”
The troop’s assistant scoutmaster, Steve McCullagh, 29, died on the scene when the bolt struck Thursday afternoon, the Tulare County coroner’s office said.
The lightning strike came just days after four Scout leaders were electrocuted while putting up a tent at the National Scout Jamboree in Virginia. Dozens of Scouts were sickened by the stifling heat two days later at the jamboree.
At least one of the injured in the lightning strike was kept alive only because the troop managed to administer CPR for an hour, Picavet said. It is not known which injured person that was.
“That’s amazing,” Picavet said. “It’s very difficult. It’s probably because of their Boy Scout training.
Bill Collins said his grandson was a scout for more than three years and loved the outdoors.
“He was a fabulous boy. He was doing what he loved to do,” Collins said. “It’s just a tremendous shock to everybody.”
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