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Forum Communications, Published August 19 2012

Minnesota boy who died after lightning struck sailboat identified

DULUTH, Minn. - A 9-year-old boy from Iron River died of injuries suffered when lightning hit near a 26-foot sailboat near the end of Minnesota Point late Saturday afternoon.

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office reports that Luke Voigt - one of eight people aboard the boat injured in the lightning strike - died after being airlifted to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.

The lightning struck the sailboat about 5:30 p.m. while it was ashore on the Minnesota side of the Superior entry. The boat had been brought to shore, seeking refuge from an approaching storm, authorities said. The boat was on the lake side between the rip rap and the break wall of the Superior entry.

The group was evacuating the sailboat when it was struck by lightning, the sheriff's office said. One of the victims was able to call 911.

In addition to Luke, authorities reported that those injured included Luke's parents, Paul Voigt, 46, and Laurie Voigt, 45, of Iron River; Luke's brother, Daniel Voigt, 7; John Lintula, 52, and Vicky Lintula, 50, both of South Range; and Paul Voigt's parents, Frank Voigt, 79, and Mary Voigt, 78, of Pierz, Minn.

Authorities had said Saturday that Luke had lost a pulse for a time and had CPR performed on him. He was found face-down in the water by his brother, who turned him over, according to Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Jarry Keppers. The other passengers started CPR on him, which was continued by rescue workers who got a pulse back.

Luke was in very serious condition when airlifted from the site by LifeLink Helicopter, he said.

“Everyone was injured at least somewhat,” Keppers said of those on the boat. At least three of the adults were seriously hurt.

The Duluth Fire Department, the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, the U.S. Coast Guard, Duluth Police Department and Gold Cross Ambulance were among the agencies responding to the call. The boat was about three miles from the Sky Harbor Airport at the end of Minnesota Point near the Superior entry.

Because of the difficulty getting to the remote site, which is about two miles from a road, about 25 minutes elapsed before the firefighters arrived by boat. Other responders followed by boat, all-terrain vehicles, and on foot, Keppers said.

“It’s one of the more remote areas of the city aside from areas of the Munger Trail,” Keppers said. “At least here, we can use boats.”

Meanwhile, ambulances were standing by, and local hospitals were alerted to be ready for multiple injuries.

Luke Voigt was airlifted from the boat site to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. All the others were taken by boat to Sky Harbor Airport or the Duluth Coast Guard Station. From there, they were taken by land ambulance to St. Mary’s or St. Luke’s hospital, Keppers said.

The last of the injured was on the way to a hospital by ambulance shortly after 7 p.m.

Authorities requested that the Aerial Lift Bridge be kept down during the rescue response. It was back in operation at 7:10 p.m., able to be raised for marine traffic. About an hour later, the sailboat that was struck was towed by the St. Louis County Rescue Squad to Fraser Shipyards in Superior.

The incident happened as scattered thunderstorms moved across the Northland from north to south on Saturday afternoon when a cold front moved through the area.

At 5:33 p.m. Saturday, about the time of the reported lightning strike, the National Weather Service in Duluth issued a severe thunderstorm warning for parts of Douglas County as one of the scattered storm cells strengthened near the city of Superior. The storm, moving southeast at the time, was reported to be capable of producing large hail and damaging winds, although the Weather Service did not relay any spotter reports of severe weather as of Saturday evening.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, at 3:05 p.m. and again at 4:58 p.m., the Weather Service issued “marine weather statements” warning mariners to be aware of thunderstorms moving across the waters of western Lake Superior, capable of producing gusty winds, small hail and lightning strikes.