Like the rest of the world, I was horrified to learn of the train derailment in northwestern Spain on July 24th, leaving at least 80 people dead with more than 100 injured. In fact, one of the injured was a Mormon missionary from Bountiful, Utah.Eighteen-year-old Stephen Ward had left his Utah home six weeks earlier and began his mission in a training center in Madrid learning the Spanish language and culture. Little did he know that the journey to El Ferrol, his first area of service, would prove so perilous. When he never arrived in El Ferrol to meet his missionary companion, everyone knew something was wrong.
The six-foot-six-inch Elder Ward was writing in his journal when he glanced up at an information screen for passengers, moments before the crash that showed the train was traveling at 194 kph (121 mph). He said the speed was nearly double since leaving Madrid earlier that afternoon.
Rafael Catala, a senior transport official in Spain’s Development Ministry, said the train appeared to be going much faster than the track’s speed limit of 80 kph (50 mph). An Associated Press analysis of security camera video of the crash indicated the train hit the bend at the crash site going twice the speed limit or more.
As the train lifted off the tracks, Elder Ward said it felt “like a roller coaster” and noticed a backpack fall from the rack above him before blacking out. Fortunately, Elder Ward was one of the first people rescued from the train and at first thought it was all a dream until he saw those around him covered in blood.
“After 30 seconds or a minute I finally thought to myself I don’t think I’m asleep. I think this is real and that was a scary realization,” Elder Ward said.
While he suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck, he is expected to make a full recovery. His mission president, who was an orthopedic surgeon before leaving his home for three years of service in Spain, traveled to the hospital to look at X-rays and to help figure out what needed to be done.
In a Fox News article, Elder Ward’s father, Raymond, said that hospitals are nothing new to his son. At 14, Elder Ward was diagnosed with a rare cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma. He had to have a bone marrow transplant and nearly died two or three times.
He’s been healthy ever since and is a happy young man who plays piano and excelled in school. He left for his mission after one year at Brigham Young University, where he is studying chemical engineering.
“Not many people come that close to death twice before age 20,” his father said. “I’m just grateful that he’s alive and that’s he my son.”
Elder Ward told his family he wants to continue his mission. He knows he’s lucky to be and alive and the experience has strengthened his resolve to make his mission count.
“I’m going to live every day working and doing my best, trying to make the world around me a better place. I don’t know what better message you could pull out of it than that.”