Freak lightning strike may have killed Brit, wife, baby and dog on hiking trail

Jonathan Gerrish, wife Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter Muji and the family’s dog, Oski, were all found dead in Yosemite’s Sierra National Forest in a mystery that is baffling US investigators

A British man and his entire family found dead on a hiking trail in California could have been killed by a lightning strike, investigators say.

Jonathan Gerrish, 45, who was originally from Lancashire, wife Ellen Chung, 31, their one-year-old daughter Muji and the family’s dog, Oski, were all found dead in the Sierra National Forest.

Mystery still surrounds the cause of the family’s deaths at the remote Yosemite beauty-spot after their bodies were discovered nearly three weeks ago.

Investigators have been probing theories including the possibility the family were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, or from coming into contact with toxic algae.

Autopsies have been able to confirm the family were not killed by gases from a nearby mine, or with weapons such as a gun or a knife, but have not yet shed light on what caused their deaths.

According to the latest US reports, investigators have turned their attention to the possibility a lightning strike killed the family of three and their pet.

The odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are around 1 in 500,000 in the US.

Lightning kills an average of 49 people a year, and around two-thirds of victims survive their injuries.

Search teams found the experienced family’s bodies at a site near a spot called Devil Gulch on August. 17, one day after they were reported missing.

Their vehicle was found near one of the gates to the forest.

The US Forest Service closed trails around the area where they were found, as toxic algae bloom was discovered in a waterway around 12 miles downstream from the location of the bodies.

Authorities warned of the potential presence of toxic algae in the South Fork stretch of Merced River near where the family were found immediately following their deaths, sparking worry.

A warning reportedly on the California State Water Resources Control Board’s wesbsite said: “Do NOT let pets go in the water, drink the water, or eat scum on the shore,” the warning said. “Keep children away from algae. Do not eat shellfish from this waterbody.”

Investigators said that there were no signs of trauma on the bodies, and that their attention was now turning to possible lightning strikes in the area, according to the New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office reportedly said there were no new updates in the investigation.

Steven Jeffe, the couple’s friend and neighbour in Mariposa, California, told the newspaper: “It’s mysterious, the unknown of what danger possibly lies there.”

He described British software engineer Mr Gerrish, who has worked for SnapChat and Google, and family therapy graduate student and yoga instructor Ms Chung, as experienced hikers.

He described the couple as “devoted parents” for whom their daughter was “everything.”

He added: “It’s such a beautiful family. It’s obviously so devastating.”

“Their daughter was everything,” Mr. Jeffe said. “They were very devoted parents.”

Sheriff Jeremy Briese told the Fresno Bee he had never encountered such a mysterious case in his lifetime.

He said: “It’s frustrating, and we’re not going to rest.

“Our biggest mission is safety, but also the family and bringing closure, and being able to support them through this tragic time.”