David Lukert, 75, of East Moriches, sits in Peconic Bay...

David Lukert, 75, of East Moriches, sits in Peconic Bay Medical Center the day after he was struck by lighning at Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton. (July 14, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

David Lukert did not know what nearly hit him.

"There was a big, loud boom," Lukert, 75, of East Moriches, said. "It knocked me off my feet. I have no recollection of it at all."

The loud boom was a lightning strike along the trail where Lukert was walking Tuesday a little after 2 p.m. He was on his way back from collecting mussels at Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton, going back to the parking lot.

The lightning strike also knocked over a birder Lukert had been talking with moments before.

When Lukert got up, he said his head felt funny, but otherwise he felt fine. He went back to check on the birder, Gary Straus, 73, of Port Washington, and found him in worse shape, unable to stand up.

"I told him I'd like to help you, but I don't know how," Lukert said Wednesday, talking by phone from his hospital room at Peconic Bay Medical Center, where both men were taken Tuesday afternoon.

Straus was transferred to Stony Brook University Medical Center Wednesday, where officials said he is in good condition.

At the time he was nearly struck, Lukert, who was walking behind his wife, Carol, was holding a metal wire basket more than half full with their day's haul. It had started to rain moments before and Lukert, who had been talking with Straus while his wife went up ahead, cut short the conversation to return to his car, and advised Straus to follow.

Kids walking on the path came upon Lukert and Straus after the lightning strike and called for help.

During the ambulance ride, Lukert saw that Straus had burn marks on his ankles.

John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist for the National Weather Service, said burn marks generally indicate points where lightning exits or enters the body. Burn marks on both ankles could indicate that a current from the lightning traveled throughout Straus' body, Jensenius said. He said the circulatory system and the nervous system are the best conductors of electricity within the body.

Lukert speculated that his metal-wire basket and Straus' metal telescope may have helped attract lightning. But Jensenius said this is a popular misconception.

"Metal conducts electricity, but doesn't attract it," he said.

Jensenius said the safest places to be during a storm are inside a substantial building or a car with a metal roof.

He said July is historically the peak month for lightning fatalities because it is a popular month for outdoor activities and a heavy month for lightning activity. There have been 14 lightning fatalities in the nation this year, with three in July.

Lukert, meanwhile, said Wednesday he was eager to leave the hospital. He said his hospital stay had prevented him from enjoying the mussels he collected Tuesday. "I want to get out of here," he said. "I feel fine."

Lightning safety tips

  • Have a lightning safety plan: Know where you'll go for safety and how much time it will take to get there.
  • Monitor the weather: Look for signs of a developing thunderstorm such as darkening skies, flashes of lightning or increasing wind.
  • Get to a safe place, immediately: At the first sound of thunder, move to a fully enclosed building or a hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows closed.
  • Stay there: Remain inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.

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