Lightning Survivor Returns to Climb Wetterhorn One Year After Accident

It is by a combination of serendipitous good fortune and the skill of a fireman and his nurse wife, who happened to be in the right place at the right time, that 25-year-old David Smith is alive today.
Hiking alone on Wetterhorn Mountain July 25, 2016, Smith was struck by lightning a few feet from the summit, after which he plummeted approximately 100 feet, breaking his leg, two bones in his neck and suffering a traumatic brain injury.
According to Smith, the weather conditions were perfect for hiking that fateful day. “It was sunny, just beautiful,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, around noon, a storm came up out of nowhere and with it came the lightning.”
Smith was unconscious for approximately 24 hours, alone and seriously injured. “I remember thinking, when I came to for a second,” Smith said, “I have to get down somehow. I have to get to my car.” With his body broken and already reaching a state of total shutdown, this of course was impossible.
Somehow still able to find his voice, Smith realized the only thing he could possibly do was to scream as loud as he could and hope someone nearby would hear him. He was in the basin of a fourteen-thousand foot mountain in the most remote county in the lower 48 states, and his prospects seemed dim.
Boise, Idaho fireman Shane Smith and his nurse wife, Megan Nelson, were supposed to be hiking the Matterhorn. Something told them to head for nearby Wetterhorn Peak instead. Other hikers in the area heard Smith’s cries for help and alerted the Nelsons to his whereabouts.
“A series of miracles were set in motion at that point,” said Smith’s father Russ Smith of Wichita, Kansas. “The Nelsons happened to have a cell phone that had a GPS signal, and with a stroke of luck, receiving cell service at 13,000 feet, they were able to reach local business owner Keith Chambers, who was able to reach the EMS team and launch flight for life.”
Shane Nelson, a member of the Boise, Idaho technical rescue team, and wife Megan, a nurse at St. Luke’s Meridian Hospital in Meridian, Idaho, along with two other hikers, were able to secure Smith and carried him 500’ to the helicopter.
Smith was in renal failure by the time they reached the hospital in Grand Junction. “He only had a few hours left to live,” said Russ Smith.
Smith underwent four months of intensive rehab at Craig Hospital in Denver and was eventually able to return to his home in Soldotna, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula where he works as a fisheries technician.
He and his family, father Russ, sister Lexie and brother Colton, returned to the scene of the accident this year on July 4 to hike Wetterhorn together.
“You can’t let the mountain win,” Smith said. “You gotta go back and conquer it. So, the scores are tied right now.”
“One thing I will say,” Smith added, “I would offer this advice to anyone attempting to conquer a fourteener: never hike alone.”