I was 11 at the time, taking a road trip with my family to Worlds of Fun Amusement Park in Kansas City. Somehow we ended up on an unfamiliar road, and I found myself looking toward the driver’s seat for reassurance. But all I could find were signs of Dad’s tension building.
I asked him what was wrong and he told us one of his good friends died in a bridge accident on this same stretch of road. We came to learn that the bridge was just up ahead, and Dad was doing a bad job of hiding his apprehension.
Somehow I convinced him to wake Mom up and let her drive for a while. But as he reached over to nudge her arm, my sister shrieked.
“Dad! There’s a little girl in the road! STOP THE CAR!!!”
Dad swerved left, attempting to avoid the obstacle, but was blocked by a car occupying the neighboring lane. To avoid collision, Dad swerved right, but overcorrected, sending our wood paneled Grand Wagoneer on a direct course with the river.
We launched recklessly off the base of the bridge, with every second feeling like an hour until our vehicle finally made impact with water. I watched helplessly as my whole family sank helplessly in our 2 ton steel coffin. That’s when the stone cold reality of the situation hit me. The end was near and all four of us would share the same fate.
But as our last remaining air pocket filled in, our station wagon stopped it’s inevitable descent with an abrupt thud, as if some unknown force stepped in. Had we hit bottom? It seemed unlikely. Whatever the case, there was no time to dwell. If we were to capitalize on this last chance at life, it was now or never.
We whipped off our seat belts and sucked in our last breaths. The roll-down windows worked to our advantage, offering us a chance to escape. I swam furiously out of the vehicle toward the freedom of the water’s surface. As I swam, an unexpected burst of light in the depths caught my peripheral vision. The illumination revealed a now dislodged station wagon that resumed its original path sinking to the the river bottom.
I thrashed on toward the surface, with 30 seconds feeling more like 30 minutes. I gasped for air which was now plentifully abundant, and I could hear similar gasps from my Mom, Dad and Sister nearby. We did the impossible. We made it out alive. The Coast Guard arrived moments later, pulling us onboard their vessel to safety.
We sat aboard the Coast Guard’s Boat wet and speechless, shocked by the near fatal detour of our family road trip. The Coast Guard questioned each us about the events that took place, and we were shocked to discover one common thread tying all of our stories together; a bright, submerged flash of light moments after escaping the submerged car.
To this day, we’ve been unable to explain the events that happened, but my dad is convinced his deceased friend granted us a second chance at life that day. We all wonder if the spirit of that same little girl was the catalyst that caused his car to go overboard as well. No matter the case, we are grateful not to share the same horrific fate.