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The Day I Almost Died

The Day I Almost Died

One million, seven hundred and fifty eight thousand, two hundred and forty yards.
That’s how far we travelled.

Eighty yards.
That’s how far we had left.

As per my last post, I was thoroughly enjoying my trip. In the past two months I have been through so much, and explored so many different places. So many new cities, so many new people.

The story…

But this is about something else. One of the most beautiful drives ever.

It was a 1,000 mile drive from Austin, Texas all the way to Phoenix, Arizona. I’d been told by so many people during my journey that Arizona would be a beautiful drive ‘where god paints the sky’. It was something I was so excited for, and rightfully so. It was spectacular to say the least.

Arizona, Where God Paints The Sky

Arizona, Where God Paints The Sky

Mountains, crazy desert land, rock formations of the likes I’d never seen, crazy open views and mini tornados everywhere. Not to mention the fact that I could see a storm in front of me and actually estimate how long it would be before I entered into it.

At this point in the trip, my friends had flown over to join for me a two week road trip and we were 2/3 of the way through, heading to Phoenix before shooting up to Las Vegas the next morning. We had two cars between the seven of us; the 1995 Ford Mustang and their big red Dodge rental car.

During a 14-hour drive you tend to switch it up a little, friends switch cars, we stop for food, switch again. It’s a good way to keep on your toes, keep yourself awake and keep things alive on the road.

I know one thing for sure, it was awesome.

The build-up…

Towards the last hour or so I was driving and I had two of my good friends in the car with me – Lee and Callum. Lee was in the front passenger seat to my right and Callum was in the back seat half asleep lying down. You see, the back of my car was where we took turns to sleep. If someone didn’t want to be disturbed and wanted to lie down – they’d get in the back of my car and enjoy the pillow I had waiting for them!

The other car signalled to stop for sunset on the side of the road and get some pictures…

The Arizona Sunset

The Arizona Sunset

We got back on the road.

Callum was in and out of sleep as we neared the end of the drive. Lee and I had been using that time to talk about the hilarity of the trip so far, Taylor Swift and some long-overdue business related updates. About half an hour had passed, we’d been deep in conversation for a while, Callum had woken up, and the sun had set. This brought us just into darkness – you know, that time when the dark has just fallen, then somehow 5 minutes later its pitch black bar the street lights and moonlight.

I don’t remember what time it was, I don’t remember what we were talking about, I don’t remember what song was playing, I don’t remember what I was thinking about. I don’t even remember what t-shirt I was wearing… but here’s what I do remember…

The crash…

Callum: Woahh woahh woahhh… swerve Mike, swerve swerve!
Lee: Fuck, Mikeeee braaakkeee braakeeee!
Mike: …
Car: Scrrreeeeeeeeecccccchhhiiinnnnnggggggg… smash!

Callum spotted our friends’ car in front was slowing down rapidly. Then, out of nowhere, it stopped, more suddenly than I could have ever been prepared for. Cut-to the start of Callum’s voice above.

As I realised what was inevitably going to happen, I thought back to one thing my dad taught me from day one of driving – “Never swerve left or right unless you have time to see that nobody else can be hit or hit you.”

When you’re in a situation like this your brain goes into survival mode. And in what felt like about 0.001 of a second I was able to weigh up all my options and decide which was best. In my head it went something like this…

*Looks in right mirror* oncoming cars at high speed – I can’t swerve there.
*Looks in left mirror* two cars directly behind pulling into the lane that second, and a wall – I can’t swerve there.
*Looks back in front at rapidly approaching red rental car* this is my only option for what I assume will be the least amount of cars and casualties.

Turning into either lane had a high probability of a far worse scenario. If I’d taken the option to swerve, we’d have potentially had a car hitting us in the side at 65 miles per hour therefore forcing us into the red car regardless. This would have definitely caused a serious injury to me or Lee whilst also including an additional car in the accident.

My mind was made. My choices limited. My imminent crash fast approaching. Time to brace…

Whilst the above was taking place, I was slamming down on my brakes. Unfortunately, in a 1995 Mustang they were not ABS enabled and were extremely weak. However, the brakes did slow us down to about 40mph from 65mph.

We began to skid for what felt like 15 seconds. In reality it was closer to 3-4 seconds. I clutched the steering wheel with all my strength, stretched my other leg forward and awaited impact. I witnessed Lee in the corner of my eye put his arms forward to hold-off the impact and similarly use his legs to push himself backward into the seat. Callum however made potentially the best choice of his life… seconds earlier he was without seatbelt, sitting in the middle of the back leaning forward talking to us both – he slid to the right, put his shoulder up against the back of Lee’s chair and held on awaiting the impact.

That is quick thinking. Without Callum’s extraordinary quick movement, he would’ve been thrown into the front of the car for sure. Who knows whether he would’ve survived? I suspect he would’ve gone through the windscreen or at the very least flown forwards and been somewhat crushed by the impact – probably causing damage to myself and Lee on the way, too.

All of us, 5, waiting, 4, bracing in, 3, intense, 2, silence, 1… the loudest noise I’d ever heard.

As we hit our friends in the red rental car we were flung forward… the loudest of all smashing sounds ringing through my ears. The g-force in the sudden stop like no adrenaline or rollercoaster I’d ever experienced. The seatbelt ripping into my shoulder like a blade. The airbag blowing-up in my face and chest, as if someone were punching me directly in the heart. The sit back. The relief.

Instantly tired, cloudy, shaky, smoky, confused, flustered… pumping…

Mike: Oh shit, Lee are you ok?
Lee: Yeah!
Mike: Callum, are you alright?
Callum: Yeah!
Mike: Oh fuck it’s hot in here… boys get out, get out, get out!

Amongst the madness, I felt somewhat good that my first thought went towards checking my friends were ok.

Once verifying the guys were ok, my second thought was that we were sitting in what could’ve been a ticking time bomb. It was smoky, really smoky. As I looked around me all I could see was a thick white cloud of smoke. My eyes burning red. That’s when I noticed the heat too. It had become intensely hot and I could feel myself beginning to wake up to what could happen. Who knows what part of the engine was mixing with what fluids, what sparks were where and what might randomly ignite. I screamed for us to get out of the car. We all scrambled out rather quickly and ran to the side of the interstate to breath for a second.

I took one look at the car… crouched down, bending my knees so I’m sitting back on my feet and let out a combined breath of relief and disbelief. I couldn’t handle what had just happened. For a second there I was overcome with emotions and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I remember my face uncontrollably shaking as if I was about to burst out – but nothing, I simply took a second to take it all in.

Crashed Mustang from Side of the Road

Crashed Mustang from Side of the Road

Crashed Mustang from Behind

Crashed Mustang from Behind

Crashed Mustang from Front

Crashed Mustang from Front

Crashed Mustang from Front

Crashed Mustang from Front

Crashed Dodge from Behind

Crashed Dodge from Behind

It’s amazing to see how mangled the front of the Mustang was compared with the damage on the Dodge.

The after-crash…

As I sat there crouched down contemplating the fact that I almost died, and more importantly nearly killed my friends, the remaining friends from the red, now smashed up, Dodge emerged.

They mostly looked fine, but one or two were holding their necks – though it seemed more precautionary than anything else, checking themselves almost. They assured us they were all fine and were clearly glad to see we were all ok. In fact, more than one asked about Callum first as they knew he’d been in the back potentially asleep. And I quote… “Man, I’m so glad not to see Callum a mangled up mess right now! What happened?”

The crazy thing is. We found out shortly after that our crash had been caused by the sudden braking of a crash about 8 cars in front of us. I don’t know what happened to them; hopefully they all made it out with no serious casualties. But I know that once we were all safely to the side…

Everyone was calm, everyone was collected and everyone was… alive.

After 10 minutes on the side of the road in a really sombre situation, in true lad fashion Dave comes out with – “Fuck me, I need a beer!” – suffice to say we made our way out in celebration of survival, enjoyed the night and came away with an unbelievable story to tell.

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  1. Ey Bruda, Yarin’ Jamaica Now | Michael Charalambous - […] the overwhelming response I got to my car crash story a while back, I’ve been meaning to write about…

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