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Afraid of lightning strike, New Jersey teen jumps from chairlift

A teen girl suffered only minor injuries after she chose to leap 35 feet from a halted ride in Seaside Heights, N.J., fearing she would be struck by lightning as a storm approached. The incident was caught on camera and TODAY's Natalie Morales has the details.

A New Jersey teenager said Monday she "freaked out" when her chairlift ride high above a beach stopped as a thunderstorm approached — and that's why she jumped.

Melanie Rossomando of Springfield said she decided to jump rather than risk being hit by lightning as she celebrated her 17th birthday Saturday at the Casino Pier amusement park.

A video posted to YouTube shows the girl kicking off her shoes and jumping off the Sky Ride as dark clouds and heavy winds roll in. It doesn't, however, show her landing on the beach.

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"We got freaked out because the storm just came in so fast," said Rossomando. "It was pitch dark above us and the lightning was right there."

Rossomando said she and her friend were three chairs away from the ride exit when the electricity went out and the ride stopped.

"We freaked out," she said. "My friend looked at me and she was like, 'We have to jump.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah. We're jumping. That's it, I'm not staying on here. It's a metal death trap.'"

"We threw all our stuff down, and I jumped but she didn't," said Rossomando.

The teen said she preferred getting hurt by jumping the 35 feet from the chair than risking getting electrocuted.

"Broken leg, broken arm, whatever, that completely beats getting struck by lightning," she said. "And I just knew the way to fall, I went straight and cradled myself to the side."

The girl's father said he received a call from an off-duty EMT soon after she jumped. The EMT had witnessed the leap, and ran to stay with her until an ambulance arrived.

When Pete Rossomando went to the boardwalk to locate his daughter and her friend -- who was able to disembark after emergency responders arrived and helped turn the power back on with a generator -- he noted just how high the lift was.

"I said, 'I'm glad I didn't see that,'" he said. "We were walking back to the car, and we started laughing: 'Wouldn't it be funny if it was on YouTube? Ha ha.' And it was."

He said he supported his daughter's "gut instinct," noting the death of a woman who was struck by lightning on the Jersey Shore the same day.

"It was self-preservation," he said.

A visit to the doctor confirmed the teen wasn't too badly hurt.

"The doctor said because she plays sports and had been working out and was getting ready for the upcoming soccer season, that's probably what saved her from getting hurt worse," said Rossomando. "And the fact that she had the presence of mind not to land on her legs, to land on her side."

The operators of the Casino Pier said the chair ride was in standby mode and no new passengers were being allowed on when the power went out. They said staff, following emergency procedures, evacuated the remaining riders and that they didn't know a passenger had jumped off until they saw the video Sunday.

Rossomando doesn't blame the ride operators for not being able to respond to the storm earlier.

"It was a beautiful day, and there was no sign of a storm coming," she said. "And the conductors aren't going to check 24/7 if there's a storm coming on."

The chairlift takes riders above the beach and boardwalk, offering cool ocean breezes and views of MTV's "Jersey Shore" house, among other things.

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