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Roy Sullivan, the man who survived seven lightning strikes

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Roy Cleveland Sullivan was a ranger in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, USA. During his lifetime, he was struck by lightning seven times and survived all of them. It has since been listed in the Guinness World Records.

During his 71 years on Earth, from 1912 to 1983, Roy Sullivan survived seven lightning bolts (and incidentally, 22 encounters with bears). A look back at the adventures of a man who was both very unlucky (hit seven times) and very lucky (he survived).

1942: the tower

The first time Sullivan was struck by lightning was near a fire observation tower, in April 1942. At the time, he was already working as a ranger in Shenandoah National Park, in the State of Virginia. However, the tower had just been installed and was not yet equipped with its lightning rod. One day, lightning strikes the cabin, declaring a fire start inside. Surprised, Sullivan then takes his legs around his neck, but he is not fast enough. Only seconds after leaving the tower, he suffered his first (and most painful) thunderbolt. Part of his leg is then burnt.

1969: the truck

While driving on a mountain road one July day, Sullivan sees a lightning strike hitting two trees on the side of the road. The metal body of a vehicle normally protects against lightning strikes by acting as a Faraday cage. Unfortunately for him, the two front windows of his car are open. Lightning therefore penetrates the interior of his vehicle through a window and comes out the second, burning the poor man’s eyelashes and eyebrows in the process. His wristwatch was also destroyed. Unconscious, Sullivan ends up in a ditch, near the edge of a cliff.

1970: the courtyard

In July 1970, Sullivan was quietly gardening in the front yard of his house, on a relatively clear day, before lightning struck a nearby power transformer. The lightning ricochets off and ends up on his left shoulder, scarring him in the process.

1972: burning hair

In the spring of 1972, Sullivan was working inside a ranger station when he was struck again. His hair having caught fire, he rushes to the bathroom to smother the flames with a damp towel.

At this point, he begins to believe that some force (maybe God) is trying to get his skin or that he attracts lightning somehow. He also becomes fearful, lying down in the front seat of his truck with every thunderstorm while waiting “for it to pass.”

1973: branding on the panties

No matter how careful Sullivan is, he hasn’t gotten out of the woods yet. On August 7, 1973, while patrolling the park, he saw a thunderstorm cloud which, he later said, seemed to follow him. He then accelerates to try to sow him. When he finally feels safe, he decides to leave his truck.

A few seconds later, however, he was struck again. The lightning goes down along the left side of his body, before going up through his right leg to the knee. He then crawls to his truck to spray his body with a can of water.

1976: the burning hair, act 2

On June 5, 1976, a thunderstorm once again seemed to be pursuing him. As he tries to escape as far as possible, a lightning strikes him again and his hair catches fire again. In his flight, he also twists his ankle.

1977: the burning hair, act 3

On the morning of June 25, 1977, Sullivan was struck again while fishing in a small pond. Lightning strikes the top of her head, sets her hair (or whatever was left of it) on fire, before burning her chest.

Sullivan then gets up to try to reach his car. It was then that a bear took up position in front of him to steal the trout he had just taken out of the water. Sullivan takes his courage in both hands, grabs a tree branch and hits the animal, causing it to flee. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. During his career as a ranger, Sullivan has indeed encountered a bear on twenty-two occasions.

A chance on …

In total, that makes seven. Note that Sullivan also recalled being struck by lightning for the first time as a child while mowing wheat with his father. However, he could never prove it. Officially, this therefore does not count.

What is the probability that a person will be struck by lightning seven times? A professor of statistics at George Washington University once estimated it to be 4.15 out of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, which makes a lot of zeros. It should be noted, however, that the man worked much of his life outdoors in a very stormy state.

Roy Sullivan finally died on September 28, 1983 at the age of 71, not from love at first sight, but from a gunshot wound to the head.


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