St. Charles Herald-Guide

Lightning strikes Cataouatche fisherman

By Bruce McDonald - August 10, 2012

In what both brothers called a miracle, Chad and Chuck Colombel are out of the hospital after one of them was struck by lightning while they were fishing in Lake Cataouatche on Saturday.

The brothers, from Larose, were out to win the 4th Annual Fishing for Frankie Bass Tournament, which was held at Pier 90. The two launched their boat at daybreak Saturday and headed to the Tank Ponds.

"The week before, we caught a good stringer of bass and had over 15 pounds in another tournament," Chuck said. "We were out to win this one and the weather was beautiful when we started fishing."

But as the morning progressed, the weather got worse. A large thunderstorm had developed in the southeast and was moving fast in their direction. At 7:45 a.m., strong winds, blinding rain and severe lightning moved in.

Chuck put on his yellow rain suit and was sitting in the buddy seat of the 18-foot Ranger. The two had decided to leave the area, but Chad wanted to make one last cast. The last thing Chad remembers is getting his rod in the 12 oíclock position.

Thatís when lightning struck.

"Chad was laying on the front deck of the boat next to the trolling motor controls. The foot control was on fire and I put it out," Chuck said. "I noticed Chad was still breathing and I looked around for help. I stood up and began waving my arms and yelling at the boat next to us.

"They were about 100 yards away."

Local fishermen Ritchie Friloux and Johnny Polk were in the Tank Ponds with four other boats when the weather got bad. The two had put on their rain suits and sought cover by lying on the bottom of their boat.

"Lightning was hitting all around us. I peeked up from under my rain suit and I could barely see the other boats from the heavy rain," Friloux said. "I am an extreme outdoorsman and when I seek cover the weather has to be bad.

"Thatís when four bolts of lightning hit real fast around us."

Friloux said he thought he heard someone yell out after the lightning strikes and looked around to see Chuck waving his arms.

"The trolling motor on his Ranger boat was on fire 100 yards away from us. The rain and lightning had let up a little, so I cranked up my motor and went over to help them out," Friloux said.

When they arrived Chad was lying on the front of the boat. With the help of two other fishing brothers, Greg and David Bourdonnay, Chad was loaded into Frilouxís boat.

"We quickly took off for Pier 90. I looked down at my speedometer and saw we were traveling at 74 miles per hour while crossing Lake Cataouatche," Friloux said.

All he could think about was getting the semiconscious angler to the dock. While they were crossing Cataouatche, Polk called 911 to have emergency responders waiting at Pier 90. He also tried to comfort Chad.

"I kept talking to him but at one point he closed his eyes and started shaking," Polk said. "I knew he was going into shock. It took us less than 10 minutes to get back to Pier 90, but it seemed like an eternity."

The Bourdonnay brothers had stayed with Chuck at the Colombelís boat. However, Chuck had a problem with his pacemaker due to the lightning strike and the men had to bring him to the Pier 90 dock as well.

The Colombels were transported to West Jefferson Medical Center. Only 24 hours later, Chad, 59, and Chuck, 63, were released and allowed to go home.

"The doctors at West Jeff told me two things happen when lightning hits a person," Chad said. "Either they die immediately or they die if they donít reach a hospital within the first one to three hours. The quick action of Johnny Polk and Ritchie Friloux getting me to the dock is why I am alive today.

"Itís a miracle that I survived."

Chad said family members have told him that he should go out and buy a lottery ticket.

"But I feel that I have already won by being alive," he said.

Chad still faces a long road to recovery. He has two perforated eardrums and aches in the joints of his neck, shoulders, arms, fingers and legs. The gold rope chain he was wearing at the time of the lightning strike burned into his skin.

"I hear things like Iím in a barrel and have headaches," he said. "The doctors told me recovery will take some time. As for fishing, Chuck and I will be fishing real soon. If bad weather comes up, we will take better precautions in the future."

Chad Colombelís rain jacket exploded near the top of his head after the fisherman was struck by lightning on Saturday in Lake Cataouatche.
Chad Colombelís rain jacket exploded near the top of his head after the fisherman was struck by lightning on Saturday in Lake Cataouatche.