Was Mysterious Death Of Hiking Family Caused By Lightning?!?

Could this finally be an answer? Could lightning really have caused the deaths of this poor family??

In case you haven’t heard about this mysterious tragedy before now… John Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter Aurelia Miju — along with their beloved golden retriever Oski — went out for a hike a couple weeks ago, and never came back.

After a brief search, they were all found dead on a trail to Hite Cove, near Devil’s Gulch, in the Sierra National Forest. Disturbingly, there was no clear cause of death. No marks, no trauma, no sign of animal attack or foul play. They were just lying dead out in the open on the track.

The Mariposa County Sheriffs Office initially made the area a hazmat scene just in case, but there was no toxin, no gas leak, no chemical spill.

A couple things have been ruled out, and toxicology reports are still weeks away. But mostly everyone has been completely stumped.

However, a new theory is apparently being tossed around as the investigation continues: they were struck by lightning. According to the New York Times, authorities “were investigating possible lightning strikes in the area” around the estimated time of death. Could that be an answer?

Obviously the first question we have is… lightning with no storm? It does happen. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, “dry lightning” — lightning with no rain — is more rare but also more dangerous because it’s more likely to cause forest fires. There’s also a phenomenon referred to as “a bolt from the blue” in which lightning follows a path from the side of a storm cloud outward, sometimes traveling several miles before hitting the ground. This has caused lightning to be reported despite a cloudless sky. This is obviously even MORE rare. But it happens.

The next question we have is, wouldn’t there be evidence of this? Big scorch marks, burned clothes, that kind of thing?

Well, the National Weather Service says a lightning strike isn’t necessarily quite so explosive as it looks in movies. They explain when someone is struck it’s “primarily an injury to the nervous system, often with brain injury and nerve injury” and that “serious burns seldom occur.” Death, which is actually more rare than you might imagine, happening in only about 10% of cases, comes from cardiac arrest.

While this is a possible explanation, it’s not enough to go on yet. All authorities can do for now is continue to be cautious. Just last week Sierra National Forest officials closed the Merced River Recreation Site “due to unknown hazards found in and near the Savage Lundy Trail.”

And the Bureau of Land Management closed recreation areas downstream of where the family died as water samples are being tested.

Hopefully soon we’ll have an answer — and it will help keep others safe.

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