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The McQuilken Brothers and the 1975 Lightning Strike

A Moment Frozen in Time

By Deji AkomolafePublished 14 days ago 4 min read

On a summer day in August 1975, two brothers, Michael McQuilken, 18, and Sean McQuilken, 12, set out on an adventure to climb Moro Rock in California's Sequoia National Park. Unbeknownst to them, this day would go down in history not for their climb, but for a dramatic and near-fatal encounter with one of nature's most powerful forces—lightning. Moments before being struck, the brothers posed for a photo, capturing a seemingly innocent moment that would soon turn into a harrowing experience. This blog post delves into the details of that fateful day, the photo that became iconic, and the aftermath of the lightning strike.

The Climb Up Moro Rock

Moro Rock, a granite dome rock formation in Sequoia National Park, is a popular hiking destination known for its breathtaking views. On that August day, the McQuilken brothers, along with their sister Mary and a family friend, decided to climb the rock. The hike, which typically offers panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada, seemed like a perfect adventure for the young siblings.

As they ascended, the weather began to change. The sky darkened, and the air grew heavy with an impending storm. Despite the ominous signs, the group continued their climb, unaware of the danger that lay ahead.

The Moment Before the Strike

When they reached near the top of Moro Rock, the McQuilken brothers noticed something unusual. Their hair began to stand on end, a phenomenon caused by the ionization of the air—a clear sign of an imminent lightning strike. Intrigued and amused, they paused to take a photo, capturing the eerie moment. The photograph shows Michael and Sean with their hair standing up, laughing and pointing at each other, oblivious to the deadly threat that was seconds away.

The Lightning Strike

Moments after the photo was taken, a bolt of lightning struck the area. The powerful electric discharge hit the boys, sending them into shock and causing severe injuries. Sean McQuilken was knocked unconscious, and Michael was also significantly impacted. The strike was so intense that it left burn marks on their bodies and damaged their clothing.

Their sister Mary and the family friend were also affected by the strike but to a lesser extent. The lightning bolt that hit the McQuilken brothers was part of a sudden and severe storm that caught many visitors to Sequoia National Park off guard.

Immediate Aftermath

In the immediate aftermath of the strike, the group was in a state of shock and disorientation. Park rangers and other hikers quickly came to their aid, helping to stabilize the injured and get them to safety. The McQuilken brothers were transported to a nearby hospital where they received treatment for their injuries. Despite the severity of the incident, both Michael and Sean survived.

The photograph taken moments before the strike quickly gained attention, serving as a stark reminder of the unpredictable and dangerous nature of lightning. It became an iconic image, often used in safety campaigns to educate the public about the signs of an impending lightning strike and the importance of seeking shelter.

The Science Behind Lightning Strikes

Lightning is a natural electrical discharge that occurs during thunderstorms. It is caused by the buildup of electrical charges in the atmosphere, typically between the cloud and the ground. When the electrical potential becomes too great, a bolt of lightning forms, traveling at incredible speeds and generating immense heat.

The phenomenon of hair standing on end, experienced by the McQuilken brothers, is a result of the ionization of the air. As the electric field around them intensified, it caused the hairs on their heads to rise, a warning sign of an imminent strike. Unfortunately, by the time they noticed this sign, it was already too late to take cover.

Lessons Learned

The McQuilken brothers' experience highlights several important lessons about lightning safety. First and foremost, it underscores the importance of recognizing the signs of an impending lightning strike. When hair stands on end or you hear a buzzing sound, it is crucial to seek shelter immediately, as these are clear indicators that a lightning strike is imminent.

Additionally, it serves as a reminder to always pay attention to weather conditions, especially when engaging in outdoor activities in mountainous or exposed areas. Thunderstorms can develop rapidly, and being caught in the open during such a storm can be extremely dangerous.

Finally, the story of the McQuilken brothers emphasizes the importance of public education and awareness. By sharing their story and the iconic photograph, they have contributed to increased awareness about lightning safety and the need to take such threats seriously.

The McQuilken Brothers Today

Decades after the incident, Michael McQuilken has reflected on that fateful day and the impact it had on his life. In interviews, he has spoken about the importance of understanding and respecting the power of nature. The experience left a lasting impression on him, shaping his perspective on life and safety.

The iconic photograph of the McQuilken brothers serves as a powerful reminder of the unpredictable and often dangerous forces of nature. It is a testament to their survival and resilience, as well as a cautionary tale for future generations. The story of Michael and Sean McQuilken is not just about a lightning strike; it is about the awe-inspiring and sometimes terrifying beauty of the natural world and the importance of being prepared and aware.

In conclusion, the McQuilken brothers' experience on Moro Rock in August 1975 is a compelling narrative of survival against the odds. Their story, captured in a single, eerie photograph, continues to resonate, educating and reminding us all of the raw power of nature and the importance of safety and awareness in the face of its unpredictable forces.


About the Creator

Deji Akomolafe

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Comments (2)

  • John Francis14 days ago


  • Sandeep Kumar 14 days ago

    Your recounting of the McQuilken brothers' harrowing experience on Moro Rock is truly captivating. The way you detail the events leading up to the lightning strike and its aftermath, coupled with the iconic photograph capturing that eerie moment, vividly brings their story to life. Your writing not only informs but also emphasizes the powerful and unpredictable forces of nature that we must always respect and prepare for. Keep up the excellent work in sharing such compelling and educational narratives!

Deji AkomolafeWritten by Deji Akomolafe

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