Arusha — INCIDENCES of lightning striking people dead on Mount Kilimanjaro are rare happenings on the continent's highest peak and last week's episode was the first in almost 15 years.
The Chief Conservator incharge at Kilimanjaro National Park, Mr Erustus Lufungulo told the 'Sunday News' here that the last time a climber was hit by lightning while trekking on the mountain was in 1999, a decade and a half from last week's accident.
Irish adventurer, Mr Ian McKeever died on spot after being struck by lighting last Wednesday, the incident that left several others injured in a group of 23 climbers who were climbing the mountain for charity. According to Mr Lufungulo, when a similar incident occurred in 1999, one person died when thunder struck a team of climbers.
"Usually thunder strikes on the tallest object and at 4,000 metres, Kilimanjaro is essentially a desert with no vegetation cover, only sand and rocks, which means a walking or standing human being will be the highest figure and main target of such weather calamity," explained Mr Lufungulo.
"The guides are well trained to ensure that whenever it rains while trecking at the height of 4,000 metres and above, they should take cover in caves," the conservator added.
The Public Relations Manager for Tanzania National Parks, Mr Paschal Shelutete said, there are no special gear to safeguard climbers from bolts of lightning as of yet. Local Guide, Mr Said Makacha who was leading the pack in which MacKeever belonged, said the excited team of 23 targeting to reach the peak, insisted on trekking despite the downpour; "They simply put on their rain coats and marched on.
Following the tragedy, a team of Leitrim school pupils, aged between 16 and 17, who were also climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity when a bolt of lightning killed Ian (42), hurriedly left in fear of tragic situation. Meabh Gleeson, Siobhan McTague, Donnchadh Dolan and Conor Moran, from Ballinamore Post Primary School, in Dublin, Ireland have just cut short their expedition and flew back home.
Their principal, Mr Padraig Leydon, said: "They have all been left severely traumatized by this tragedy. They had been planning this for nearly two years and have raised over 7,000 Euros for their charities. "Everyone was so excited heading off to Tanzania just a few days ago and this has been an awful tragedy."
The record-breaking climber who also climbed Kilimanjaro in 2008, was struck as he led a party of 23 to the summit in torrential rain. The charity fundraiser's fiancee, Ms Anna O'Loughlin, who described the victim as her 'soulmate,' was also injured in the accident. Coincidentally, the lovers had met for the first time in 2008 while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and struck vows of relationship.