A U.S. Coast Guard crew rescued seven boaters after lightning struck and disabled their vessel off the coast of Florida on Saturday, officials said.
The seven boaters were taking part in a fishing tournament when their 39-foot personal vessel got caught in a storm about 100 miles off the shore of Clearwater, the Coast Guard said. One member of the group was recording video of the storm with his cellphone when lightning struck the boat.
"There was just the biggest flash like light bulbs right in your face," boat passenger Sherrie Kelley told FOX13 Tampa.
Kelly’s brother, Glenn Rumer, described how the lightning briefly knocked out their friend Josh, who was using his cellphone to record video of the storm.
"The electricity from the lightning actually went through him and caused him to black out and go to the floor," Rumer told the station, adding that their friend "came to immediately" after falling over.
While the Coast Guard said no one was seriously injured during the incident, the lightning strike damaged the boat’s engine, stranding the boaters at sea. Kelley said the lightning strike had also traveled up the outrigger, which broke in half and caught fire.
Rumer was prepared for an emergency on the water and activated the vessel’s emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), which transmitted a continuous radio signal so that rescuers were able to pinpoint their location.
"Fortunately, the boaters in this case were well-prepared with all necessary safety equipment including an EPIRB, flares, and a marine VHF radio to ensure a quick and efficient rescue," Coast Guard pilot Lt. David McKinley said.
Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater deployed an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew to their location and hoisted the five women and two men safely from the disabled boat. The crew returned them to the air station where family greeted them.
McKinley said that lightning storms are routinely encountered in the waters of Florida and can pose a danger to boaters.