Seconds before the Spanish train he was aboard lifted off the tracks "like a roller coaster," Mormon missionary Stephen Ward said he glanced up from the journal he was writing in and noticed a backpack tumble from a rack. Moments later, the 18-year-old from Bountiful, Utah, blacked out as the train smashed into a concrete wall at high speed. He awoke to a scene that seemed like a nightmare, his face caked in blood, his leg bruised, and his neck injured. But he survived a horrific crash that killed at least 78 people—his latest brush with death.
Four years earlier, Ward was diagnosed with a rare cancer known as Burkitt's lymphoma and nearly died while undergoing a bone marrow transplant. "From a religious standpoint, I'd like to say that God has something in store for me and that there's a reason I'm still here," Ward said in a phone interview from La Coruna, Spain. He suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck but has been discharged from the hospital, and expects to stay in Spain to complete his two-year mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he started six weeks ago. Ward was actually supposed to board an earlier train from Madrid to El Ferrol, but he accidentally bought a ticket for the wrong day and instead went on the later train, which ended up crashing.