NJ lifeguard killed, 6 injured by out-of-the-blue lightning on beach
BERKELEY — A lifeguard was fatally struck by lightning and as many as eight other people were injured Monday afternoon on an Ocean County beach.
The deadly strike happened even though the closest storm appears to have been 4 miles away.
The guard was struck on the township beach between 21st and 23rd streets about 4:30 p.m., Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronadry told New Jersey 101.5. The beach is located between Island Beach State Park and Seaside Park.
The lifeguard could not hear after being hit, according to the sheriff. Another three lifeguards and four people on the beach were also injured.
The lifeguard was later pronounced dead, according to Seaside Heights lifeguard Capt. Robert Connor.
All the victims were taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River.
"So sad...Just horrible news...May the Berkely Twp. Lifeguard RIP..God Bless his Family and the Berkely Twp. Beach Patrol," Connor said on his Facebook page.
Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato told New Jersey 101.5 the beach will be closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and will be unguarded.
"Just a tragedy, I'm totally devastated, never thought something like this would happen. This young person was out there all summer protecting the lives of others," Amato said. "It's just heartbreaking. My deepest sympathies go out to the family and a speedy recovery to all others injured."
The township is also bringing in counselors for beach staff next to Ocean Mental Health on Route 9.
Bolt out of the blue
New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said there doesn’t appear to have been a thunderstorm directly overhead at the time but there was a thunderstorm about 4 miles away in Lavallette.
“Lighting bolts have been known to travel 30 miles outside of an actual thunderstorm cloud," Zarrow said.
So how were six people injured when just one person was struck by lightning?
Zarrow said lightning always looks for the easiest way to get to the ground. The lifeguard was the highest point in his chair which is why he got struck.
“The electricity travels through him, through the chair into the ground. That’s why a second lifeguard may have gotten struck. That’s why if anyone was nearby they also may have gotten zapped. It’s also really loud and really scary,” Zarrow said.