Alberta driver lauded for keeping young baseball team safe when their bus was struck by lightning

U13AA Fort McMurray Oil Giants team member Campbell Elliott gives driver, Nadeem Aslam a thank you card after he kept them safe when their bus was struck by lightning on June 23. (Submitted by Toni Elliott - image credit)
U13AA Fort McMurray Oil Giants team member Campbell Elliott gives driver, Nadeem Aslam a thank you card after he kept them safe when their bus was struck by lightning on June 23. (Submitted by Toni Elliott - image credit)

Angel Croucher was on a charter bus with her son's baseball team in northern Alberta when it was struck by lightning so loudly that it sounded like a jet engine.

The U13AA Fort McMurray Oil Giants team was travelling home from playing a weekend tournament in Slave Lake. They had been driving for about three hours on Sunday when they found themselves in the midst of a storm.

The driver, Nadeem Aslam, said it was really windy, and he had to grip the steering wheel tight, going 110 km/h down the highway.

"Our bus is 48 feet long, it's the size of a billboard," he said. "The wind was pushing me off the road."

Then, he was suddenly blinded.

"I saw a big ball of light out my driver's window," he said. "When the lightning hit, it was like a bomb blast."

The front tires exploded and the back tires started losing air. Croucher said her eight-year-old daughter, who had joined the trip to watch the tournament, started screaming and crying.

"Are we on fire? Are we going to be okay? All I could smell was rubber burning," she said.

The lightning strike caused the front tires to burst and the back tires to start losing air.
The lightning strike caused the front tires to burst and the back tires to start losing air.

The lightning strike caused the front tires to burst and the back tires to start losing air. (Submitted by Toni Elliott)

Croucher said the sound was intense.

"I went to the drag races in Florida many years ago, like in southern Florida, and they have the big jet engines… and that's what I can compare it to. It was a really intense boom," Croucher added.

Croucher said Aslam remained calm. He's been a driver with Diversified Transportation Limited for 13 years, and a trainer for new drivers for about eight years.

He took his foot off the gas and steered the bus until they slowed to a stop on the side of the road.

"The kids were shocked," Aslam said. "The coach was sitting next to me. I just said 'calm down, everything is under control.' "

None of the 24 passengers were injured and everyone was picked up by a rescue bus about two hours later.

What happens when lightning strikes a vehicle?

David Phillips is Environment and Climate Change Canada's senior climatologist. He said that, while everyone on the bus was safe, it wasn't because of the rubber tires.

It's a common myth that a vehicle's tires will protect people from lightning.

"The temperature inside of a lightning strike is six times the temperature of the sun, about 30,000 degrees. So it can fry things, it can melt things instantly," Phillips said.

"But lightning is very, very lazy. It tries to get grounded and it takes the easiest path to it."

He explained that everyone on the bus was safe largely because the metal roof and sides of the vehicle took the charge and directed it into the ground, through the tires.

Convertibles, motorbikes and cars with plastic or fibreglass shells offer no lightning protection, he said.

Oil Giants team member, Chance Croucher, taking a selfie with driver Nadeem Aslam during Sunday's game.
Oil Giants team member, Chance Croucher, taking a selfie with driver Nadeem Aslam during Sunday's game.

Oil Giants team member, Chance Croucher, taking a selfie with driver Nadeem Aslam during Sunday's game. (Submitted by Angel Croucher)

For the team, Aslam is more than just their chauffeur. "He's one of the nicest charter drivers we've ever had," Croucher said. He's been travelling with the team for about four years.

Aslam watches their baseball games, helps them unload their bags, and lets them sit in the bus with air conditioning when it's hot out.

Croucher said the whole team is so grateful. They delivered gifts and a card signed by everyone. "We're getting him a jersey. He's part of our honourary team," she said.