CAPE VINCENT — The two friends went down like they were shot, blacked out and then began screaming as they couldn’t feel their legs or hands, coming after it appears lightning made an impact and then traveled through the metal they were both holding.
Nathan Hall, 26, Clayton, and Ryan Shanahan, 23, Carthage, were working on a fifth-wheel camper that belongs to Mr. Hall’s dad Sunday. His dad, Steven Hall, has a summer camp on Tibbetts Point Road, just a few hundred yards from the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse, where the pair were working.
It was about 2 p.m. when they were almost finishing up. All they had to do was adjust the camper’s hitch so it would fit on Mr. Shanahan’s truck. It was raining and thunder was in the distance, but there was no real cause for concern. With an impact drill in one hand, Mr. Shanahan held on to the hitch with his other. With a crescent wrench in one hand, Mr. Hall held on to the hitch with his other — then the thundered crashed and the flash followed.
“It’s the worst pain I’ve ever been in,” said Mr. Hall, who once broke his back in a four-wheeling crash. “It felt like someone threw a piece of dynamite in our face.”
Mr. Shanahan, a self-employed contractor, said the lightning made him go on his tip-toes for a moment before falling. He would later find small holes in his shoes where his big toe should be.
In his brief moment of freeze, Mr. Shanahan watched as his friend went down immediately. The feeling was a million times more intense than the countless shocks he’s faced while working as an electrician, he said. It wasn’t just the pain, but not being able to feel his legs and hands was more daunting.
“I’ve dislocated my shoulder five times and that’s one hell of a pain,” he said. “But I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced something like this.”
Mr. Hall’s father, Steven, watched them drop as he stood a few feet away.
“It was like a bomb went off,” Mr. Hall’s father said. “You thought the world was coming down on you.”
Steven said he watched the two fall to the ground and then go unconscious for seconds.
“For the first thirty seconds,” he said, “I thought they were both gone.”
He said he began shaking them. He saw the clear imprint in their hands of the tools they were holding.
The pair would finally regain consciousness, which made him feel better, but they were screaming in pain and beginning to say they couldn’t feel their hands or legs.
Steven was able to get the two into his barn and onto some flat concrete. They gradually began to regain feeling, and after 10 or 15 minutes, they were able to stand. Mr. Hall and Mr. Shanahan would end up being taken to Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, where they were monitored for a few hours and then released.
“It’s just a miracle they’re alive,” Steven said.
It’s unclear where the lightning actually struck. They weren’t hit directly, but it’s almost certain the common denominator is that they were both holding the camper’s metal hitch. The lightning could have struck the camper and then traveled through the hitch. It could have hit somewhere else and eventually made it to the hitch. The tools they were holding were a factor as well, but nothing is certain.
“It’s kind of like we were holding a metal rod in the air and asking for it,” said Mr. Hall, who can now joke about the incident somewhat. “The lightning hit something metal and then came to us. We were still struck by lightning.”
It’s somewhat lucky timing, too, since Mr. Shanahan is getting married this weekend. All he’ll likely have to deal with is some marks on his hands.
“Also I can’t thank the first responders enough,” Mr. Hall said. “The Cape Vincent Volunteer Fire Department was on top of it — same with the Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service in Clayton. They have definitely been trained well.”
It was a mind-sobering incident that has led to some laughs in the days after, and it’ll likely be a story that will last their lifetimes.
“Maybe I’ll be able to say, ‘Your dad’s been struck by lightning,’” Mr. Hall said.