17-year-old killed by lightning strike identified as Tempe high schooler, 911 calls released

Posted at 7:11 PM, Jul 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 22:11:41-04

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.

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 weather conditions. The two survivors, ages 17 and 18, are recuperating.

Listen to the 911 call in the player below.

Young was described as lively and active teenager by friends and family on social media posts.

“He would just come in with a big smile and call everyone their nickname and you could just tell he cared so much about you and made you feel so welcome no matter what,” said Dorothy Settles, Young’s friend from high school choir.

“This wasn't supposed to happen to them,” said Jordan Dragon, a high school friend who also sang with Young in choir.

Wade graduated from Corona del Sol this year as an honors student who was active in school and athletics, the Tempe Union High School District said in a news release. 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.

“This is really tragic but the thing is… his life wasn’t,” said Dragon, who is also planning to attend ASU’s Barrett Honor College this fall.  “I think now I just want to make him proud. Definitely in all I do I'm going to work harder and be better because that's what Wade  would've pushed me to do and that's what Wade would've challenged himself to do.”

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 and that the intensity of the storm began waning after that time period. The monsoon season is when thunderstorms are most prevalent.

Still, emergency responders trying to reach the hikers were staved off 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 Flagsatff 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 often times the things that seem intuitive to keeping safe are 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 individuals should disperse and be separated by at least 15 feet.

Coconino National Forest doesn't track the number of visitors but says Humphreys Peak is very popular among hikers.

The trail runs about five miles each way and ends at the highest point in Arizona.

The agency's website warns visitors about dangers and also includes tips on keeping safe, but there are no posted warning signs outside of the trail, nor do authorities close trails when the weather is bad.

"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.