Mountaineers in a climbing group that reached the summit of the nation’s highest peak on Monday were struck by lightning while descending with the assistance of iron chains.
The climbing group, comprised of 13 mountaineers from Taipei City and Changhua County, checked into the Yuanfong Cabin at an altitude of 3,640m in the Yushan National Park in Nantou County’s Shueili Township (水里) on Sunday.
They set out to climb to the summit of Yushan (玉山) at about 3am on Monday, before five members of the group returned to the Paiyun Lodge at an elevation of 3,402m above sea level to rest, because they were experiencing discomfort.
After the rest of the team reached the summit at approximately 5:30am, they attempted to come down the mountain with the assistance of iron chains.
However, the group were struck by lightning when they came close to a wind gap, with three of them — porter Ho Cheng-tao (何正道), Huang Ching-wen (黃敬雯) and Lin Yun-jung (林昀融) — passing out at the scene, said a climber surnamed Liu (劉), who sustained minor burns on his hands in the incident.
Ho and Huang regained consciousness shortly afterwards, but Lin, who was wearing a digital camera that reportedly caused the lightning to flow directly through her body, did not come to.
The remaining climbers asked their team members at the Paiyun Lodge for help using wireless communication equipment. The team members immediately called guards stationed at the site.
Although the guards attempted to dispatch a helicopter to airlift the victims, the plan was scrapped because of inclement weather in the area.
Instead, five Yushan National Park Headquarters mountain patrollers went to the rescue of the injured mountaineers by foot, spending four-and-a-half hours taking turns to carry them off the mountain.
A nurse who came across the patrollers while climbing the mountain also joined the rescue effort.
As the first hospital to which the victims were sent lacked a burns center, they were rushed to the Changhua Christian Hospital for treatment.
Despite suffering from temporary paralysis and second-degree burns, Lin’s injuries were not life-threatening, doctors said, adding that the other injured climbers were also in a stable state.
In response to the accident, a Yushan National Park Headquarters official said that while the agency had considered replacing the iron chains with plastic ropes, the idea was abandoned over concerns that frost caused by low temperatures on the mountain could reduce friction between the ropes and hands, and because lightning strikes were rare.
The nation has seen only a few mountaineers struck by lightning, including an incident in April last year in which two members of a climbing team from New Taipei City (新北市) sustained multiple burn injuries after being hit by lightning.
Another incident was fatal, when a female mountain guide, named Lin Tsui-min (林翠敏), was killed by lightning in May 2005 while climbing up the North Peak of Snow Mountain (雪山).