Teaching assistant recovering after being struck by lightning on field trip in SC

LANCASTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - A Buford Middle School teacher's assistant is recovering at home after being struck by lightning during a school field trip last Friday.

Principal Sheri Wells says she, staff members and about 40 students went on a field trip to the YMCA Camp Greenville on Friday. The students and teachers were taking part in three different outdoor activities, including the high ropes.

Wells says it was overcast, but there was not thunder or lightning. She says out of the blue, lightning struck.

"We didn't see it, but we felt the ground shook. And that's how we knew it was close so we got the children away from the water," Principal Wells said. "She grabbed the cable with her hand, the teacher and the two instructors on the ground saw the lightning hit her hand on the cable."

Kristina Heaton has been a teacher's assistant for 7 years at Buford Middle School. Witnesses say she was ejected from the cable, but was caught by the harness she was wearing.

She fell approximately two feet and was dangling in the air. They say she stayed conscious the entire time.

"She said my arm and my neck hurt, and she had some spidery-like red places on her arm," Wells said.

Camp instructors removed her from the high ropes by a rescue bag. She was able to walk once she got to the ground.

She was transported to the hospital in Brevard where she underwent an EKG. Wells says her heart was okay, but they were worried about internal burning.

She was airlifted to a burn center in Augusta. Doctors there say she did suffer from internal burning.

She returned home Saturday and will go back to the burn center next week to find out if there is any long-term damage.

According to National Geographic, there is a 1 in 700,000 chance a person will get struck by lightning in a given year. They say there is a 1 in 3,000 chance a person will get struck by lightning in their lifetime.

"This is the first employee I've had struck by lightning and I've been in teaching for 34 years," Wells said. "I've had a lot of weird, freaky things happen, but this is a first."

YMCA Camp Greenville sent WBTV this information about the incident:

What happened: Buford Middle School was at Camp Greenville for a retreat with their students. In between student groups utilizing our High Ropes course, teachers had the option to also have a turn. As the final group was wrapping up their time on the course, two teachers were in the process of exiting the course to the last platform.

While standing on the platform, a crack of lightning hit the cable one of the teachers was on. Blue sparks flew off the cable system that she was attached to and she dropped about two feet until she was caught by the safety gear (harness and rope system). The safety equipment and ropes course, having been inspected in February by a professional outside company, and inspected before use by internal staff, performed exactly as it is designed to do.

How we got her down: A staff member who was on the course with her used his training and practice knowledge and used the rescue bag to detach her from the course and lower her to the ground. This is a practice that each staff member must master before finalizing their training.

What do we normally do in situations like this: Although Camp Greenville has never had a lightning strike on the course before, we do train for any number of situations that could arise. We were pleased to see Camp Greenville staff respond exactly as they have been trained to do in emergency situations.

She was in good spirits as she walked back to the main part of camp and as we took her to the hospital for precautionary reasons. It was great to see the students that were there sending her positive thoughts and prayers and words of encouragement.

YMCA of Greenville always strives for utmost safety in all our programs, facilities and camps.

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