FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A 17-year-old boy killed by lightning on Arizona’s highest peak was hiking in an area that experienced over 100 strikes within a one-hour period and is known for its extreme weather, authorities said.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office identified the boy as Wade Young of Tempe, Arizona.
Young, who just graduated from high school, was struck by lightning close to the summit of Humphreys Peak near Flagstaff.
The boy and two others were hiking the peak when a strong monsoon storm rolled in. The group called 911 dispatchers shortly before 1 p.m. seeking help, but they weren’t rescued for hours because of the bad weather. Two boys ages 17 and 18 survived.
Young was described as a lively and active teenager by friends and family.
“He was always doing something good. He was the happy-go-lucky,” type, said Adolfo Sanchez, who helped coach Young on his school rugby club.
Sanchez, whose son was close friends with Young, said the boy was a positive thinker.
“He got involved and he got off his butt and actually lived life, you know? I think that every kid and every adult and every person out there just needs to remember that,” Sanchez said.
Wade graduated from Corona del Sol High School this year with honors and was active in school and athletics, the Tempe Union High School District said in a statement. Young sang in the school’s top concert choir, played volleyball, volunteered with a service organization and was named a “Tempe Top Teen” by the city’s mayor.
Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said there were 106 on-the-ground and 393 cloud-to-cloud lightning strikes between noon and 1 p.m. in that area on Wednesday before the storm waned. Thunderstorms are most prevalent during Arizona’s monsoon system, which lasts from June through September.
Emergency workers trying to reach the hikers were prevented from getting to the site more quickly by nearby lightning that made it unsafe for them to proceed, sheriff’s spokeswoman Erika Wiltenmuth said. Rescuers were able to reach the hikers around 4 p.m.
Mottice says the National Weather Service only tracks ongoing or recent lightning storms and doesn’t keep long-term data. But that area near Flagstaff is known for high monsoon storm activity, and the U.S. Forest Service warns visitors about the dangers of lightning on its website.
“The onset of these storms rolls in quite rapidly,” said Darryl San Souci, the safety and occupational health officer at Coconino National Forest. “What we tell people is be prepared before you go out and know what you need to have with you and what you need look for in case of a lighting situation.”
San Souci says the most important thing is to not be carrying or be near any metal or fiberglass. He said safety precautions that may seem to make sense can be the most dangerous, like taking shelter under a lone tree or in a cave.
Another mistake people make is getting near each other when they’re in groups. San Souci says people in places where lightning may strike should stay at least 15 feet apart from each other.
The Humphreys Peak trail runs about five miles each way and ends at the highest point in Arizona, 12,600 feet.
“You can’t really predict when somebody is gonna be in a really bad situation, that’s why we really harp upon knowing the conditions of where you’re about to go,” spokesman Brady Smith said.