Weatherwatch: decline of landlines makes death by phone less likely

Weatherwatch: decline of landlines makes death by phone less likely

Weatherwatch: decline of landlines makes death by phone less likely

Telephones used to be responsible for a quarter of all lightning injuries sustained indoors in the UK

A lightning strike in Tokyo near a statue of the Olympic rings

Tue 10 Aug 2021 01.00 EDT

While death by phone may sound like an urban myth, it can really happen. In 1985 a 17-year-old in New Jersey was found dead, lying on his bed while still holding a telephone receiver to his ear. Investigators were initially puzzled by the lack of burn marks on the victim’s body and on telephone equipment, but an autopsy concluded that his heart had stopped due to a huge electrical jolt.

Lightning striking wires outside the house had been conducted through the phone line and earthed through the victim’s body with fatal results.

In 1995, a woman in Ireland using the phone during a thunderstorm heard a loud bang and was thrown across the room. She recovered, but was left deaf in one ear by the indirect lightning strike.

In the days before mobile phones dominated, telephones were responsible for about a quarter of all lightning injuries sustained while indoors in the UK. The decline of landlines makes such injuries far less likely. The idea that mobile phones draw lightning is an urban myth.

“Mobile phones, small metal items, jewellery, etc, do not attract lightning,” according to the lightning expert John Jensenius.

Just don’t stand in the middle of an empty field trying to get a signal.

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