Can you survive a lightning strike?

Approximately 30% of direct and indirect lightning strikes lead to loss of life, although one person who would have said an emphatic yes to this question was Roy ‘lightning rod’ Sullivan. He was struck by lightning on seven witnessed occasions. Roy was a park ranger in Shenandoah National park in the USA for all his working life. 

Roy was apparently very sociable but became depressed because people didn’t want to be near him as they thought if he was nearby, they might also be struck by lightning. It is documented that his boss asked him a question once and suddenly Roy heard thunder and by the time he turned to reply to his boss he was running in the other direction shouting ‘see you later Rod’.

 In another bizarre turn of events his wife was struck by lightning when Roy helped her put out the washing. Luckily, she escaped serious injury. A famous picture can seen below  of Roy wearing his ranger uniform and his hat has a large black burn mark on it where he had recently been struck.

Roy ‘ lightening-rod’ Sullivan

The odds of a person being struck by lightning over the course of their life varies depending on the source you get the data from and differs from 1 in 3000 to 1 in 10 000. The probability will also depend on the geographical area and if it is prone to thunderstorms taking place more often. Also, the odds will be shorter for somebody who spends more time outside during thunderstorms. Whatever statistics you accept the odds of being struck 7 times could be in the range of one in quintillian (one followed by 30 zeros).  This is at least a trillion trillion (a septillion)  times less likely than winning the National Lottery. So, to say Sullivan was unlucky is something of an understatement.

Sullivan was extremely ill-fated and it is rumoured that on one occasion after being struck by lightning when trying to get back to the safety of his car he was attacked by a black bear. Roy sadly ended his own life by suicide. He is in the Guinness World Records for being struck more times than any other human and surprisingly he was struck an 8th time as a child when working in a field with a scythe but had no witnesses so this particular strike wasn’t recorded.