One Marine has been declared brain-dead and another is recovering after lightning struck an MV-22 Osprey at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina on July 11, Marine officials confirmed Monday evening.
Cpl. Skyler James, a tiltrotor mechanic assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, and another Marine, whose identity was not released, were both injured in a lightning strike while working on an Osprey on the flight line at New River, according to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. There were thunderstorms that day around noon, according to local weather reports.
Both Marines were taken to Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital, where they were treated for "serious injuries," according to the release. While the unidentified Marine was soon released, James was taken to UNC Health Center for further treatment, according to the release.
After "several days of treatment and evaluation," James died at the center, according to the release. But a spokesman for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Capt. John Roberts, said the state of North Carolina declared brain death for James on Sunday, though he remains on a ventilator.
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The lightning strike happened as Marines were leaving the flight line, having received a warning that lightning had struck within five miles, according to officials with 2nd MAW. It's standard procedure within the unit to stop flightline activity when lightning comes within five miles as a safety precaution, according to the release.
The freak accident was first reported by the Naval Safety Center, which listed it as a Class A mishap. In aviation, this category is reserved for mishaps that cause $2 million or more in damage to an aircraft or result in fatality or permanent total disability.
James is from Sonoma, California, and had joined the Marine Corps in March 2016, officials said. He had earned the Good Conduct medal and Sea Service Deployment ribbon, and had been promoted to corporal in October.
"Cpl. Skyler James was a hardworking Marine full of work ethic, ability, and drive," Lt. Col. Stephen Pirrotta, commanding officer of VMM-261, said in a statement. "He was quick to smile and ready to accept any maintenance challenge on the flight line with a demeanor that allowed for easy interaction between his peers and superiors, alike. This was a tragic accident. Corporal James will be sorely missed by the Raging Bulls. His family is in our thoughts and prayers."
The Marine Corps did not immediately announce the incident publicly, and only issued a release confirming the mishap Monday evening -- nearly a week after the lightning strike occurred and more than nine hours after a Military.com reporter queried officials about it.
Roberts said some of the details of the tragic incident created a "gray area," making it unclear how and when officials should handle information.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a Marine Corps release that stated James is deceased. In fact, he was declared brain-dead and is on a ventilator.