American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Lightning, Maine, Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991


Maine, Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park

On August 27, 1990, David Passalacqua (13) was struck and killed by lightning while hiking the Knife Edge near Pamola Peak. He was with a Boy Scout troop consisting of ten Scouts and two leaders. Another Scout and a leader were injured, and all felt the strike, which occurred at 1600 in a brief, but severe, storm. Their location was such that there was no chance for cover for at least another 20 or 30 minutes. (Source: Baxter State Park— Search and Rescue Report)


Park officials reported that the Scout troop was experienced, having backpacked many mountains since 1987. The weather report called for a 30 percent chance of showers in the afternoon. The Scouts did not go into the Knife Edge in bad weather. The storm came up suddenly, after they had hiked the Knife Edge Trail and were within 100 meters of Pamola Peak, which is where the strike occurred.

The park Director, Irwin “Buzz” Caverly, indicated that the last recorded lightning strike fatality was in 1968, at Chimney Pond—well below the summits and the timber- line. Twenty-two people were marked or affected by that one strike. (Source: Baxter State Park—Search and Rescue Report)

(Editor’s Note: While not a climbing accident, this report is incluckd to remind high peaks hikers and climbers in New England of the potential for this hazard. While very few have been killed by lightning in Baxter State Park, the White Mountains, Green Mountains, or Adirondack:s, those which have occurred are similar. For instance, in less than 12 months in 1984, an Outward Bound group was struck on Franconia Ridge—causing an instructor fatality—and a man was killed while sitting at a picnic table at the base of Mount Lafayette in Franconia Notch. Both events were during isolated, brief afternoon storms.)

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