GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — While summer is peak visiting season for the Grand Canyon, the monsoon storms that bring cool breezes and dazzling rainbows also bring danger: lightning strikes.
A Grand Canyon National Park spokesperson confirmed a 23-year-old man from Italy was struck by lightning while hiking on the North Rim Aug. 17. The man was evacuated by helicopter to the burn unit at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is stable, alert and talking.
Jim Callahan was hiking along the trail from the North Rim Visitor Center just after 5 p.m. when a storm passed over the area. Callahan said the rain had been heavy, but had lightened up and he was heading down to Bright Angel Point when he heard a loud crash of thunder.
“I thought to myself ‘Wow, that was close,’” Callahan said.
Callahan said within two to three seconds, another lightning bolt crashed nearby, this time so close that it jolted his head and ears. Callahan said as he turned to go back up the trail, he saw the body of a man lying face up on the ground behind him.
“I started yelling for help, six or seven times, as loud as I could,” he recalled.
Callahan said he went to the man to cushion his head and continued calling for help. He said another hiker arrived and began performing CPR, later alternating with another man who showed up to help.
“We couldn’t see that he was breathing, but he must’ve been — when I came back to the park the next day, employees told me he had been taken to a Las Vegas hospital and was stabilized and breathing,” Callahan said.
Grand Canyon National Park officials caution hikers who are out and about during monsoon season, urging “when thunder roars, stay indoors.” Because of its high elevation and exposed areas, the North Rim sees more lightning than the South Rim.
“It was a very terrifying experience,” Callahan said. “I’m from Massachusetts and I’m used to thunderstorms, but not like this. Now if there’s a thunderstorm, I just get in the car and wait it out.”
Callahan said he saw the lightning that evening, but there didn’t appear to be any near the location where he was hiking. He suggested more signage to let visitors know about the potential for lightning strikes, whether it looks close or not.