Lightning strikes twice

Story and photos byZoe Satherley, SCU media officer

One minute Isaac Smith and his wife Denise were snuggled up in their tent, their baby in the porta-cot beside them and the older kids soundly asleep in the front room. The next minute they were burning, screaming in agony after lightning struck them.

The East Lismore family had just celebrated New Years Eve with friends at the Stuarts Point Tourist Park, between Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.

Isaac said that as his body convulsed with pain, he could smell burning flesh and singed hair.

It seemed to go on for an eternity but I guess we were being electrocuted for about six to eight seconds, said the Southern Cross University media lecturer, who called it the most intense, unbearable pain he had ever endured.

Denise and I were both in tremendous pain and shock but our only thoughts were fear for the safety of our children. We were both paralysed down our left side... thats where the charge entered our bodies. As we struggled to get up, we just kept stumbling and falling over. It was terrible.

Isaac reached toddler Deianera, 2, who had been sleeping just one metre away. She looked up at him, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and rolled over to go back to sleep.

Obviously, she had not been affected. Staggering into the front room of the tent he found Amber, 6, and her brother Rien, 8, similarly unscathed and unfazed by all the commotion.

The couple crawled out of their tent to a shocking sight. The huge eucalypt they had camped near was split in two by the lightning strike and had crashed on top of their neighbours camper trailer, almost squashing it flat.

Inside the trailer were their friends Jubilee Smith, lecturer in education at Southern Cross University, her husband Chris and children Josephine, 5, and William, 3.

I instantly feared they may have been killed but unbelievably, they all crawled out on their bellies with just scratches and bruises, Isaac said. All nine of us could have been killed. I consider it a miracle we all survived. I am a very spiritual person and I just thank God we were all kept safe.

They later discovered burn holes where the lightning came up from under their tent, burning through both the ground sheet and the tent bottom.

They were even under Deianeras cot, so the fact that she is safe is even more amazing, Isaac said.

Isaac, Denise and their children were transported to Macksville Hospital and then Coffs Harbour Hospital for observation, where doctors were astounded at the freak pattern of burns on Isaac and Denises bodies.

Isaacs burns were shaped like jagged lightning lines across his chest, back and left leg. Denises burns were more like star bursts with spikes coming off them.

Since the lightning strike the couple have been researching why their burns were so different and why the children didnt get electrocuted. They would like to hear from anyone with any clues about the mystery.

Denise and I were sleeping on a foam mattress and the older children were on air beds, so we dont know if that made a difference. The baby was in a steel porta-cot, Isaac said. We were camped about three metres in front of the gum tree and wondered if the charge could have travelled down the root system, which may have run under our tent.

Isaac hopes the experience will not put the family off camping.

You cant live your life in fear, worrying about something that might never happen again, he said. Otherwise, youd stay at home and never go out.

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