The difference between serious injury and safety for Tonya Gardner was a dozen or so rows of bus seats.
The Corner Brook native, who now lives in Edmonton, was among the tourists travelling on the tour bus that crashed into a transport truck filled with car tires near Heidelberg, Germany on Thursday, leaving nine people seriously injured.
“I feel very fortunate," she said. "I’m not a religious person, but some kind of divine intervention took place because I think things could have ended way worse than they did.”
Gardner is always one to head for the back of the bus when she travels, but this time the thought crossed her mind to stick to the first few rows and give herself a better vantage point to check out the sights and sounds along the way.
She’s happy she didn’t.
It was only 20 minutes into the drive when she woke up to people screaming. She stood up from her seat to see what all the confusion was about, thinking maybe a deer had crossed in front of the bus.
What she saw still has her shaken.
She saw a white car swerving away from the bus. Fractions of seconds later she saw a transport truck coming towards them. She said it looked like the driver of the transport truck tried to swerve away from the bus, but the bus kept going over into the other lane.
It happened so fast, she said. First a crash and bang, and then the smell of diesel fuel filled the air.
She could hear people yelling at the driver, who was slumped over in his seat when she got him in her sight.
“Nobody knows what happened. I don’t know if he fell asleep, or if he had a heart attack or what had occurred,” she said.
As of Friday evening, four people were listed in critical condition as a result of the collision.
Gardner is feeling pretty fortunate to have walked away with only soft-tissue injuries, a few scrapes and cuts to her face and some cuts down her left arm from shattered glass.
It was total chaos at the scene, but Gardner knew she was lucky to be alive.
There were a lot of people in worse shape than her so she immediately began helping where she could ease the pain of others.
She had struck a conversation with two older ladies from Ontario when she boarded the bus. They were among those who she tried to help.
One woman was pinned in her seat, surrounded by others who were hurt.
Gardner was scared to move the woman because she didn’t know the extent of her injuries and didn’t want to make matters worse.
The smell of diesel fuel running through the bus worried her because she thought a fire could break out, but she was able to help the women to safety.
She found herself trying to help wherever she could. She was holding IV bags. She put pressure on open gashes for people she had never met before.
She just knew she had to help who she could knowing there was so many people hurt that she would never get to all of them.
“It’s hard to get some of those images out of your mind,” she said, noting she didn’t want to think about the outcome if the bus had been hit straight on instead of being hit at an angle figuring she probably wouldn’t have survived the impact.
When things began to settle down after emergency responders arrived on the scene to take care of the injured, Gardner’s thoughts switched to her son Julian, who was home in Edmonton following along with his mom’s five-country journey.
Her boy had survived a horrific motor vehicle crash a few years ago and that moment came back to her again.
“I wanted him to know I was OK because he was following my every move,” she said. “I didn’t want him to hear on the news what happened because he knew where I was. I just wanted him to know I was safe and that he had nothing to worry about. I just wanted him to hear my voice.”
Gardner, who said counselling is being provided to the people affected, has done her fair share of crying over the past few days.
Life can be so fragile, and it can change in the blink of an eye and she knows she’s fortunate to be around to talk about it. She woke up Friday morning debating whether she should pack up and go home without finishing the journey with scheduled stops in Switzerland and Italy to complete the five-country experience.
“I decided that I can’t let this have that type of control over me so I’m going to continue on,” she said.