Inquest After Telford Man Dies In Brecon Beacons
3 September 2015, 17:24
A walker who saw his friend die in a lightning strike on the same day that a second man from Telford was killed nearby has relived the moment their adventure holiday ended in tragedy.
Youth worker Jeremy Prescott and retired teacher Robin Meakings were in the Brecon Beacons this summer on adjacent peaks when they were killed.
Their inquests at Brecon Coroner's Court heard that weather conditions that day had started out fine but had taken a sudden turn for the worse.
Mr Prescott, from Telford in Shropshire, was hit by a bolt while manning a checkpoint on Corn Ddu mountain as part of a Duke of Edinburgh Awards activity.
Eyewitnesses said the force of the strike was such that it threw the 51-year-old into the air and melted his shirt.
Moments later Surrey-based Mr Meakings, 59, was also struck by lightning as he prepared to descend the 2580ft high peak Cribyn.
William Belcher, 46, who had been on an adventure holiday with Mr Meakings and friend Nicholas Earl described what happened.
He said: ``All of a sudden there was this bright white flash and an intensely loud, deafening whip crack sound. I could then smell something like burnt leather or bacon.
``Nic went flying forwards while Robin was motionless on his back. I was panicking, shouting at both of them 'wake up, wake up'.
``The force of the strike had blown his jacket open and there was discolouration of his chest. At that moment I knew he had gone.''
Coroner Andrew Barkley was told the deaths occurred on July 5 this year - and could not have been predicted as the weather changed for the worse without warning.
There are around 325,000 lightning ground strikes in the UK every year but the number of people struck is as low as 50 to 100 - with only 10 at most proving fatal.
Both Mr Meakings and Mr Prescott were described as fit and healthy with plenty of experience of hill walking and trekking.
Mr Belcher said the conditions were unremarkable to begin with - some spitting rain and a patch of low cloud. But around 15 minutes later, the mood and the weather changed dramatically.
Mr Meakings, who was holding his walking pole by his side when struck by lightning, was motionless as he fell backwards while Mr Earl was blown off his feet and lay paralysed with pain.
The pair waited for a helicopter to arrive but by then had realised their friend was dead.
At around 1.10pm, a rescue helicopter arrived and the chest compressions continued on board while pilots flew to the nearby Corn Ddu peak where efforts to save Telford and Wrekin Council worker Mr Prescott were being carried out.
His colleague Gaynor Hogarth said they were on their way up the 873-metre high mountain ready to meet a group of youngsters on a Duke of Edinburgh activity.
``He was taking the last step up to the top when the lightning struck,'' said Mrs Hogarth.
``I saw a bright flash like someone had turned on a fluorescent light behind Jez. There was no rumble or thunder beforehand - moments before or on the way up.
``If I had seen any lightning before we had left there would be no way we would have gone up there.
``At first I didn't think the lightning had struck Jez ... and when he started to fall forward I thought he was joking. But he just dropped to the ground - he didn't even put his arms out.''
Mrs Hogarth was then joined by three marine cadets who had been on a training exercise with the four carrying out CPR for an hour before a rescue helicopter was able to land.
The first emergency crews at both scenes were the Brecon Mountain Rescue Team who had been in the area on a training exercise.
Incident manager Dave Coombs said his team could not have arrived at the scene any quicker and the inquest heard everything possible had been done to save them.
Consultant pathologist Dr Jason Shannon said post-mortems revealed both men died as a result of electrocution.
Mr Barkley recorded a narrative verdict, saying the deaths came about after being struck by lightning.
``There was nothing to suggest that the trips were ill advised or that any human error was involved,'' he added.
``These deaths were as a result of exceptional circumstances which could not have been predicted or controlled.''
The inquest was told that while Mr Earl survived, he still has painful scars across his body as well as a weakened arm and regularly suffers memory loss.
Mrs Hogarth left the hearing in tears shortly after telling the coroner: ``I really miss Jez.''
His work colleague Jas Bedasha spoke to Heart after the inquest: