Lightning strikes kill two in Brecon: what are the chances?

Jul 6, 2015

Four people hit by lightning in Sunday's storm – and strikes are more common than you might think

Peter Kneffel

GERMANY, SUNDAY: A thunderbolt lights up the Munich skyline.

Lightning strikes in the Brecon Beacons killed two people and left two others in hospital on Sunday.

Emergency services were called to areas around Pen y Fan at lunchtime, from where two people were airlifted to hospital with life-threatening injuries, including a man in his 50s. A third person who had been walking with them was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. One of the three later died, while a fourth person was killed in a separate lightning strike in the Beacons, reports Sky News.

Huw Jones, a spokesman for Central Beacons Mountain Rescue, said the response to the accidents was swift. "Our prime concern was to get equipment and personnel up on the tops," Jones said. "And just as we were getting up onto the summit, a call came through that there was another casualty on one of the other summits."

Rescue team member Mark Jones said it was "exceptionally unusual, and for multiple people to be hit in multiple strikes on different peaks – it is very, very rare".

Last year a 20-year-old man died and more than a dozen were hurt when lightning struck at Venice Beach in southern California.

Eye-witnesses described scenes of panic as lightning struck the sand. Some of those hurt were swimming in the sea, others were on the beach or boardwalk at the time of the strikes.

How common are incidents like this?

Your overall chance of being struck by lightning is 300,000 to one, according to author David Hand in his book The Improbability Principle. The odds of you dying after being struck by lightning are one in three million, says the Harvard School of Public Health.

Around 24,000 people are killed by lightning each year around the world. However, the risk varies depending on where you live. In the UK, three people are killed each year by lightning on average, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

Those in the developing world are more at risk, as they tend to spend less time inside and there are fewer tall buildings to attract bolts. Also buildings are often less well constructed making fire more of a problem.

How do the overall odds stack up against other rare occurences?

It seems lightning is more common than you might think. The chances of you being attacked by a shark are one in 11.5m, according to the Florida Museum of National History. The odds of dying in a plane crash are slightly shorter than that, at one in 11m. Perhaps you are worried will be crushed and killed by a vending machine? Relax, the odds of that happening are one in 112m. The chances of winning the National Lottery jackpot are one in 14m.

What other notable deaths from lightning have occurred?

A mother was killed in front of her family when she was struck by lightning on a Brazilian beach in January 2014. In 2011, a strike killed 18 children and their teacher at a junior school in western Uganda.

But lightning is at its most deadly when it kills indirectly. In 1963, a Pan Am flight from Baltimore to Philadelphia crashed after being struck in a storm, killing all 81 people on board. In Egypt in 1994, a bolt ignited a jet-fuel depot in Dronka, Egypt, killing 469 people.

However, a popular YouTube video of a man supposedly being struck twice by lightning is widely viewed as being a hoax.

Is the rate of lightning deaths increasing?

In several parts of Africa and South East Asia, such deaths are rising reports the BBC. But, lightning strikes killed fewer Americans than ever in 2013, according to NBC, with 23 perishing compared to the record 432 who died in 1943.

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