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To Get Started
The predecessor of this article was copyright in 1995 and an extract of it appeared in the 1996 Weather Whys and Wonders Wall Calendar. Any content of this article or the photographs which may accompany it cannot be published or posted anywhere without written consent from Michael McQuilken. You may contact Michael directly using the contact info available on the Contact tab of his web site: http://www.michaelmcquilken.com/

On Christmas day, 1994, my sister gave me a copy of the 1995 Weather Whys and Wonders desktop calendar. I had not seen it before, so when I opened it, I was surprised to find that the cover photo was of my brother Sean and me with our hair sticking up into the air. I had not seen that photo for years, and to see it on the cover of a calendar was completely unexpected. I asked my sister where she had the calendar made for the gift. She told me that it was not made for me, that they were in every bookstore she had visited.

The photo was taken on August 20, 1975.  We did not know it at the time, but Sean and I were in for the shock of our lives – literally!

Michael and Sean Before Lightning

At the sight of the photo, the domestic scene of my father’s kitchen and the holiday chatter diffused into a long-gone summer day at Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada.  I had just completed hiking down from Yosemite National Park on the John Muir Trail, and my family had met up with me for their summer vacation in Kings Canyon National Park.

After a week in Kings Canyon, we moved our camp up into Sequoia National Park.  On one of the days in the park, we drove around to do a small number of hikes.  One of them was to the top of Morro Rock.  On that infamous day, my brothers Sean and Jeff, my sister Mary and her friend Margie, and I were on our way to the top of Moro Rock, a rounded exfoliation dome and one of the favorite attractions in the park.  The sky was overcast with patches of dark clouds, and there was light, intermittent rain.

Shortly after we reached the top and were enjoying the view with about six other visitors, someone noticed that our hair was standing on end.  At the time, we thought this was humorous.  I took a photo of Mary, and then Mary took a photo of Sean and me.  I raised my right hand into the air and the ring I had on began to buzz so loudly that everyone could hear it.  Everyone was in a jovial mood, even laughing, at the site of our hair sticking up.  No one realized what was happening and that we were all in great danger of a lightning strike.

Mary Before LightningAll of a sudden I felt a strong drop in the temperature.  At one moment it was 65 to 70 degrees F, and the next moment it felt like it was below freezing.  There was no wind, but it immediately started to hail.  We decided to get down off of the rock, not for fear of lightning, but to avoid the pelting hail.

About halfway down, Moro Rock and a smaller granite prominence converge, producing a narrow saddle.  When Sean reached this point, I was about 10 feet behind him, with Mary, Margie and Jeff behind me.  Suddenly, I was immersed in the brightest light I have ever seen.  I moved my head from side to side and all I could see was bright white light, similar in appearance to arc welding light.  This next part is strange.  I distinctly remember feeling weightless, and that my feet were no longer touching the ground.  For some reason, it felt like a number of seconds transpired, even though I realize that lightning strikes are instantaneous.  A deafening explosion followed, and I found myself on the ground with the others.  Sean was collapsed and huddled on his knees.  Smoke was pouring from his back.  I rushed over to him and checked his pulse and breathing.  He was still alive.  I put out the embers on his back and elbows and carried him down the path towards the parking lot, with the rest of the group following.

We had almost reached the parking lot when we found a woman beating furiously on her husband’s chest.  His skin was blue and there was a small burn mark near his heart.  Mary and the others took Sean down to the parking lot and I stayed and helped with CPR until the paramedics arrived.  Unfortunately, the man, Lawrence Brady, died.

Apparently there was only one bolt of lightning that had split into several fingers.  One hit Sean, another hit Lawrence Brady, and a third finger of lightning blew a shoe off of a man who was closer to the top than we were.  We learned later that the strongest bolt hit a man who was still at the top taking photographs with his camera.  He survived, but the camera he was holding was blown into quarter-inch fragments, and his clothing had disintegrated - leaving only the seams of his jacket and pants.  All of the hair on his body was completely burned off, and from what I have been told, it had never grown back.  He was unconscious at the time, and did not recover consciousness for about 6 months.

The lightning finger that hit Sean, then 12 years old, left him with third-degree burns on his back and elbows.  Luckily, Sean was not completely grounded when the lightning hit him, and so he was not killed.  Perhaps that was because we were near a metal handrail.  I conjecture that the lightning jumped from Sean’s elbow to the railing, along which it travelled down to Lawrence Brady.  The lightning also continued down the railing to the parking lot, where it hit a drinking fountain made of stone and concrete that was in front of where my parents were sitting in their truck.  The drinking fountain exploded, leaving only scattered stones on the ground in the parking lot.

Almost every time I tell this story in public, someone asks me if my brother or I gained any “super” powers or something from the strike.  I don’t feel that my DNA was reprogrammed or that there were changes to the way I produce or process neurotransmitters.  The only thing I can think of is a great respect for the power of lightning, and that I do not summit peaks if I sense the slightest chance that there will be a thunderstorm.  However, I have always had a lot of energy since that date.  A decade of my life was spent writing software, practicing drums for 3-4 hours a day, teaching up to 38 students, and performing, recording, or rehearsing all in the same day.

After receiving the Weather Whys and Wonders desk calendar back in 1994, I began an investigation into how they would have obtained a copy of the photograph of Sean and me.  The publisher of the calendar had downloaded it from NOAA.  However, the photograph available in public domain is damaged and in low-resolution.  I traced the photograph’s inclusion in the NOAA archives to a sequence of events.  My mother had remained in touch with the rangers that had helped Sean and arranged for his transportation to the Exeter Hospital.  She had mailed them a copy of the photograph which they had converted into a slide and used at campfire programs to warn visitors about the dangers of lightning.  I have also heard rumors that at one point in time, the photograph was displayed at the entry to the Morro Rock trail.  I do not know who eventually obtained the low-resolution copy and posted it on NOAA.

Visalia News Artcle

Ever since the experience of what appeared to be a perception of time slowing down where I felt like I was weightless and surrounded by white light, I have wondered how we process our sense of time.  I feel that this experience helped to set up the sequence of events that led to my discipline of meditation.

When one meditates and has reached the point where the mind becomes very still, we notice that thoughts are not a continuous flow of one into another.  They are momentary discrete events which have space between them.  It is similar in respect to movie film which is composed of individual frames, but takes on the illusion of a continuum when it is projected onto a screen as a movie.  So, my hypothesis is that when we experience the effect of time speeding up or slowing down, it is the frames per second of our thoughts that have either sped up or slowed down.  I do not have any empirical data to support my theory, but it satisfies my curiosity for the experience with time dilation.

Copyright © 2013 by Michael McQuilken

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10 CommentsSearch

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Peter - 96 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 96 Total
So are you sorry that your brother Sean was hurt? Because it sounds like this is still fun to you "...Almost every time I tell this story in public, someone asks me if my brother or I gained any “super” powers...".
1 year ago   •  Gallery
Tim - 110 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 110 Total
I had just discovered the photograph and story. It reminded me of a day in 1992 when my friends and I were on a pontoon boat in downtown Jacksonville in the midst of a thunderstorm (bad idea). My sister in law started laughing at me. I asked whats up and she said my hair was standing on end (my hair was long like Micheal's so it must have been a sight). I immediately shouted for everyone to hit the deck and that we were about to be hit by lightning. We were spared! My knowledge was based on what a childhood friend told me about the hair raising thing. I believe that general awareness was quite possibly generated from that photo. Micheal, your unfortunate incident may have saved our lives and who knows how many others. Thanks for sharing your story :}
1 year ago via California Hiking   •  Gallery
Juli - 1.1k Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 1.5k Total
Yikes! Thank dog for friends/family members who mock us, right?! ;-)
1 year ago

Tim - 110 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 110 Total
haha Juli! Exactly!!
1 year ago
Lee - 105 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 105 Total
A few years ago my wife and I was climbing Bear Bute in the Black Hills when a thunder storm became active below us and lightning was striking below our elevation. At that time the hair on our arms started to stand up,we found shelter in a cave but really know until now how dangerous our situation was.
2 years ago   •  Gallery
Robert - 105 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 105 Total
Amazing and scary story. This time stopping or at least slowing down experience is something I personally experienced on two occasions of a different kind; at one time the plane I was a passenger on fell down because of unsteady air and in a split second I saw all kinds of images and overlooked my life and found out that I was not afraid to dy; one other time I fell down a staircase while coming out of a lighted bathroom into a dark stairwell, again I got plenty of time (so it seemed) to overlook my life and again I was not afraid. Strange but comforting experiences. I agree with your theory that is I think it is quite plausible. Robert Wagter
2 years ago   •  Gallery
Sue - 105 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 105 Total
Thank you all for sharing your very interesting experiences.
2 years ago   •  Gallery
Melissa - 115 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 115 Total
In 2010, my husband was struck by the biggest bolt of lightening that I had ever seen in my life.  I was a foot from him and he was standing over the gas tank and gas lines of our boat.  The storm moved in so fast that we didn't have time to get off the lake, and tried to take shelter in very tall reeds.  He did pass away that day, the coroner said it was the worst lightening stirke they had ever seen and how I escaped without any injury was amazing.  The lightening entered his chest and exited at two places on his body.  It went into the boat and destroyed all of the wiring and electronics, it also blew all 3 batteries in two.  I remember everything about that day, I will never forget my amazement at how big the bolt was as it went over my head, how loud the crack was when it struck (I did lose hearing in one ear for about a day) and my shock and horror when I realized that my Joe had been hit.  We were told that if he hadn't been where he was when the lightening struck, the boat still would have been hit, but it would have blown up and we all would have died.  He is my hero, without him knowing it, he died so I could live.  My life has never been the same since.  I have mild panic attacks every time it starts to storm.  People close to me understand why as soon as it starts raining I get inside and I get everyone around me to get out of the weather.  But now as more time goes on, people just look at me like I'm crazy.  Good the governement is spreading the word about the dangers of lightening, but I think they need to work harder at getting across exactly how devestating it can be...
2 years ago   •  Gallery
Juli - 1.1k Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 1.5k Total
Oh my god... your story just... wow. So sorry for your loss... but so amazing that he unknowingly saved you in the process. Good vibes sent your way...
2 years ago
Bonney - 120 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 120 Total
I too was hit by lightning in 2011.  I am a Realtor who was picking up a sign from the corner of a street just after I finished an open house.  The sudden white light totally engulfed me.  I didn't loose conciousness but lost the hair on one arm and felt like I had been broad sided by a football player.  I had memory lose for about two weeks, couldn't smell and had this wonderful calm feeling.  I had flashbacks to when my children were little.  They were so real.  I remember standing in front of my washing machine the day after.  I couldn't remember where the soap went.

I can also remember thinking I was dead.  Was this heaven?  I had to tell myself that the people around me were living so I too was alive.
You start thinking philosophically about time.  It was only 3-4 seconds.  While in that bright light I thought what's next.  What will I find when I'm able to see my body again?  Will it be there?

A few weeks after being struck, I found my self on that same corner in my vehicle.  There was a patch of melted asphalt where I had been standing so yes it can destroy.  Why would anyone think that all that power couldn't do damage?
2 years ago   •  Gallery
Jeanette - 110 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 110 Total
Thanks so much for sharing your fascinating experience. Some other articles say that your brother passed from injuries related to the lightening strike. Is that true?
2 years ago via California Hiking   •  Gallery
Nicolae - 88 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 88 Total
l call thia major b*******. Not the fact that the people was stroke by lightning, that is pretty clear from the pictures, but the fact that suff exploded, like the camera and the cloths of the guy, and the god damn stone fountain. This guy is watching to much movies.
2 years ago via California Hiking   •  Gallery
Shawn - 15.3k Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 17.4k Total
Nicolae - This really isn't the place for such purely negative comments. If you'd like to express doubt about the story, that's fine, but perhaps you can reword it in a less inflamatory way. Thanks.
2 years ago

Kim - 100 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 100 Total
hey nicolae u seriously neeeed tooo get a life are usmoking something
2 years ago

Melissa - 115 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 115 Total
Your comments make it obvious that you have never experienced something like this nor witnessed it. It just shows your ingnorance!

Kyle - 99 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 99 Total
Nicolae, I have photographs proving that this does occur. I was struck by lightning when I was 13 years old. I am an amateur radio operator and much of the equipment in my radio room was blown into very small pieces. These fragments were embedded in furniture, walls, and one chunk broke through the screen of a CRT television. I was thrown across the room and was mostly unharmed, I honestly have no idea how I wasn't injured. This does happen, I can tell you first hand.
2 years ago

Hervin - 99 Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 99 Total
Nicolae you come across like a complete ass. SMH!
2 years ago
Shawn - 15.3k Rep in this Positive (Social Positive) • 17.4k Total
Great story, Mike, and what an unbelievable experience.  Thanks for sharing this with us!
2 years ago   •  Gallery

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