Although the odds of being struck by lightning are relatively low, one American man was unlucky enough to be struck an astounding SEVEN times and what’s more, he lived to tell the tale!
Born on 7th February 1912, Roy Sullivan was a park ranger in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. He received the nicknames the Spark Ranger, the Human Lightning Conductor and the Human Lightning Rod after his record number of brushes with death between 1942 and 1977.
The fact that a single lightning strike contains hundreds of millions of volts, with the peak current being around 20,000 amps, makes his survival all the more remarkable. His death defying encounters with lightning earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for being the person who survived the most lightning strikes in the world. Amazingly, he received relatively minor injuries every time!
A park ranger since 1936, Roy’s run of bad luck began in April 1942, when he hid in a fire lookout tower during a thunderstorm. The newly built tower, with no lightning rod protection, was struck eight times, igniting the structure. Roy felt a searing pain in his right leg but amazingly his only burn injury was a minor one to his big toe.
The next time he was struck was in July 1969, when he was driving his truck along a mountain road. Lightning struck trees and was deflected onto his vehicle, knocking Roy unconscious. The truck carried on moving but came to a halt before it reached the edge of the cliff. Roy’s only injuries were singed hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.
In July 1970, while in his own front garden, Roy was again struck after lightning hit a nearby power transformer, before jumping onto his left shoulder and causing minor burns.
On 16th April 1972, his hair set alight when the ranger station in which he worked in Shenandoah National Park was struck. His hair was set alight but he doused the flames with a wet towel and suffered no injuries.
On 7th August 1973, Roy’s hair was again set alight and one leg suffered minor burns when he was hit by lightning while patrolling the park. Despite seeing the storm cloud, he jumped in his truck and drove off quickly but he was hit by a lightning bolt some distance away as he got out, thinking the storm had passed. He doused the flames using a can of water in his truck.
“Followed” by storm cloud
The next lightning strike occurred on 5th June 1976, when Roy was outdoors. He saw storm clouds approaching and tried to run away to safety but he reported how a cloud seemed to “follow” him and he was struck again. This time he sustained a minor ankle injury.
The final strike occurred on 25th June 1977, when Roy was out fishing. Unable to find shelter when a thunderstorm suddenly blew up, Roy was hit by lightning on the top of his head, setting his hair alight and burning his chest and stomach. Still conscious, he also reported that he had to fight off a bear with a tree branch as he made his escape.
As a result of his ill fortune, Roy became quite famous, being invited to do a television interview with David Frost in the 1970s and appearing on the TV series, That’s Incredible, in 1980.
After suffering no further lightning strikes in the last six years of his life, Roy died on 28th September 1983, at the age of 71.