An 18-year-old missionary from Bountiful was among the survivors of a horrific train derailment in Spain that killed at least 80 people.
Stephen Ward, who had just begun his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was on his way to his first missionary assignment after completing six weeks of training at a training center in Madrid when the crash occurred Wednesday.
In a statement Thursday, the church confirmed that Ward was among those injured.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the train accident in Spain," the statement read. "Elder Ward suffered minor injuries as well as a neck injury. A full recovery is anticipated."
The church said Thursday that Ward was later treated and released from the hospital.
Ward's father, Ray Ward, said his son suffered a fracture to his neck but was otherwise in good spirits. Ward was able to talk to his family briefly while recovering in the hospital. According to Ray Ward, Ward's mission president, Scott Jackson, was an orthopedic surgeon in Provo before he began his service in Spain and offered to look at Ward's X-rays to give a second opinion. Ray Ward said doctors in Spain were deciding Thursday whether his son needed surgery.
"It's one of those good news, bad news kind of things," he said, referring to his son's good fortune even though many others had perished.
Ray Ward said that when he first read of the disaster on Wednesday, he thought that since the train was leaving from Madrid on the same day his son was set to leave training, it was possible that he was on that train. But it wasn't until the family's Stake President called that they found out for sure.
Ward was interviewed from his hospital bed by London's The Daily Telegraph. According to an article posted Thursday on the paper's website, he told reporters that he was lucky to be alive after witnessing "a scene from hell."Ward was alone on the train at the time. His new companion was going to meet him at the train station, Ray Ward said.
"I remember the train going very fast round a sharp bend and then bags flying off the overhead baggage shelf," Ward told the
Telegraph. "A woman across from me was flung from her seat and then I think the train must have derailed. At that point I passed out and when I came to I was being dragged from the carriage."The newspaper reported that Stephen Ward recalled the crash from a hospital bed in La Coruna, and it published a picture of the smiling teenager with
a bandage over his eye and wearing a neckbrace.
Ward recalled to the paper that he saw blood everywhere when he came to and that people were pulling bodies out of the wreckage.
"Some were already dead and others looked like they were about to die," Ward said. "We were the walking dead."
It wasn't Stephen Ward's first brush with death. Ray Ward said that his son had battled a rare cancer known as Burkitt Lymphoma about 3 years ago. The cancer went into remission before returning, and before his mission, Ward beat the disease again after receiving a bone marrow transplant. So far, Ward has been healthy since then, his father said.
"He's already been in the hospital much more times than you should," Ray Ward said.
Before leaving on his mission, Ward was studying chemical engineering at Brigham Young University. Ray Ward described his son as a smart, enthusiastic young man who gained a much more mature perspective on life after going through cancer treatments.
"He has a good attitude in general," he said. "I'm lucky to be his dad."