At Least 1 Dies as Lightning Hits 16 Hikers


A group of 16 hikers taking shelter in a hut at the summit of Mt. Whitney was hit by lightning Saturday evening, leaving at least one dead and four others injured, Inyo County authorities and hospital officials said Saturday night.

Authorities said that when a severe thunderstorm hit the area, the group apparently took shelter in the old Smithsonian stone house, an early 1900s structure at the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. When lightning hit the building everyone inside felt an electrical charge, according to an emergency medical technician called to the scene.

The name of the dead hiker was not immediately released.

Lt. Jack Goodrich of the Inyo County Sheriff's Department said that among the injured were Jim McLeod of Long Beach, Morgan Milligan of Orinda near Berkeley, Jim Swift of Huntington Beach and Calis Tervo of San Diego.

It was not immediately clear if the 16 were from the same group or just happened to be at the summit at the same time.

The dead hiker and those injured were transported by helicopter to Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine, although at least one injured man was transported by a sheriff's patrol car, authorities said.

"Because of the terrain and the conditions up there, we're having trouble getting personnel in there," said Sheriff's Deputy Don Starr. "We're trying to round up additional resources."

Carol Pino, one of the emergency medical technicians sent to the summit, said she gave CPR to one member of the group for at least five hours. That man was one of the injured hikers taken to the hospital, but information on his condition was not available late Saturday.

Pino said it was "really a sad scene to see people who had gone hiking for fun in this condition."

Dr. Nicholas Johnson, an emergency room physician, said the patients he had seen were suffering primarily from first- and second-degree burns.

Goodrich said late Saturday that several uninjured people--perhaps as many as seven--had remained on the summit and that authorities were flying in food and supplies. It was unclear where the victims were staying, although officials speculated they were in the stone house, built in 1909 for astronomers who wanted to study the possibilities of water vapors on Mars.

Authorities said they had asked for a CH-47 helicopter from the Stockton Air National Guard which would be able to land on the mountain and remove the remaining people, but they had not yet confirmed that that aircraft would be available.

Starr said authorities were notified of the lightning strike at 6:15 p.m. from the Los Angeles air traffic control center, which had received information on the incident from a radio transmission from an aircraft passing over the area. The plane apparently heard a radio transmission from the injured group.

Starr said authorities received a second report about 15 minutes later from a member of the group who hiked to Whitney Portal, the trailhead, and reported the accident. The trailhead at Whitney Portal is 13 miles west of Lone Pine and winds 10.6 miles to the summit at 14,495 feet. The view from the crest looks west to most of Sequoia National Park, including the Great Western Divide.

Times staff writer Dean Murphy and correspondents Marty Forstenzer and Benett Kessler contributed to this report.

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