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Questions remain after passenger struck by lightning at CAE

Published: Jul. 2, 2015 at 4:19 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2015 at 4:24 AM EDT
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WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - WIS is learning more about a lightning strike that hit an airline passenger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, and now, a passenger aboard the same flight is speaking out. She says she has big concerns with the incident, because she believes the whole thing may have been prevented if different actions were taken.

On Saturday night, a flight from Hartford, Connecticut to Charlotte, North Carolina, carrying 75 passengers, was diverted to Columbia because of bad weather, but as the US Airways flight unloaded onto the Tarmac, a 52-year-old female passenger was struck by lightning.
 
"I didn't even get into the terminal when I heard a sound that sounded like a bomb going off," recalled a fellow passenger on US Airways Flight 5137, who spoke under the condition of anonymity.

The fellow passenger, who's also an E.R. trauma nurse, says she quickly jumped into action.
 
Columbia Metropolitan Airport officials say the plane landed at 5:07 PM, but an incident report says the flight didn't start unloading onto the Tarmac until about 45 minutes later.

"There was a huge delay between the time we hit the ground and the officials contemplating what to do with us," the nurse said.

She said, for whatever reason, the plane did not get a gate and said there was some amount of discussion on-board the plane before offloading onto the Tarmac.
           
She said, at that point, a storm was brewing. A radar image pulled from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research website shows a storm in the area, even though an airport incident report says, "The weather appeared to be clear with dark clouds approaching."

"I was the second person to deplane the airplane, and as I came down the stairs, I actually saw lightning hitting the ground to the left of the plane, you know, within my field of vision," the anonymous passenger and trauma nurse said. "I walked to the terminal and the rain, actually, was hitting me already."

She told WIS, after the strike, she noticed a passenger with a bloody arm walking toward the terminal. Then, the nurse said she noticed another passenger face-down on the Tarmac.

"It was obvious she had taken a direct hit by the lightning. She was bleeding from the mouth. She was bleeding from her forehead," she said.

The nurse said she, along with another nurse and a couple public safety officers, helped move the injured woman inside, but the nurse felt the public safety department's response wasn't good enough when the lightning strike victim went into cardiac arrest. The nurse told WIS she had to ask for an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) about five times.

"The people who did respond, although certainly professional, were also, I felt, ill-prepared and not given the resources they would need. I was shocked to see that first responders would respond without any gloves," the nurse said.

In a newly released statement, the airport tells a different story. CAE said the two public safety officers, already in the area, were at the passenger's side in 45 seconds. While the two public safety officers didn't have rubber gloves, the airport said they were joined by two more with gloves in four minutes. The airport said first responders had retrieved an AED within 30 seconds. The airport spokesperson also said the responders had medical training that exceeded FAA requirements.

"In the midst of chaos, the Columbia Metropolitan Airport response team managed the situation with calm, professionalism and with utmost care of the passenger in mind. The quick action on their part, in all likelihood saved this passenger's life and to imply that our public safety officers provided anything less than first class service does, in fact, perpetuate WIS' agenda to cast a pall over our facility and incite fear and mistrust among its viewers," the statement concluded.

The nurse said, despite the airport's comments, she still has grave concerns
 
"Myself and the nurse are actually the ones that applied the AED. We turned it on, as we've been trained to do, and it actually advised a shock, so this woman was, as we suspected, in severe trouble," she said.

The nurse also hopes the injured passenger is on her way to a full recovery.

"I pray for her. I think about her during the day. She is the last person I'm thinking about when I fall asleep," the nurse said.
 
As far as the patient's condition, she was last reported to be in a stable condition as of Sunday morning. There have been no updates since then.

In a statement, American Airlines, the operator of US Airways, said, "Since Saturday night, we've worked around the clock to provide assistance to our passenger who was seriously injured by a lightning strike on June 27 in Columbia and her family."
 
The airline also thanked the passengers and airport personnel who helped in the medical response before the passenger was transported to Lexington Medical Center by Lexington County EMS.

WIS has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Lexington County to get the complete dispatch records of the incident.

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