SALT LAKE CITY — Seconds before the Spanish train he was aboard lifted off the tracks "like a roller coaster," Mormon missionary Stephen Ward said he glanced up from the journal he was writing and noticed a backpack tumble from a rack. Moments later, he blacked out as the train smashed into a concrete wall at high speed.

He awoke to a scene that seemed like a nightmare.

"Everyone was covered in blood, there was smoke coming up off the train," said Ward, 18, of Bountiful, Utah. "There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming. There were plenty of dead bodies. It was quite gruesome, to be honest."

Ward said an information screen for passengers showed that the train was traveling 194 kph (121 mph) moments before the crash. He said that speed was nearly double the speed they had been cruising at since leaving Madrid earlier that afternoon.

The train was traveling fast when it derailed Wednesday and killed dozens, but officials haven't yet confirmed how fast.

Rafael Catala, a senior transport official in Spain's Development Ministry, said it 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.

Ward's face was caked in blood, his leg bruised and his neck injured. But he survived a horrific crash that killed 80 people – his latest brush with death.

Four years earlier, Ward was diagnosed with a rare cancer known as Burkitt's lymphoma and nearly died while undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

"From a religious standpoint, I'd like to say that God has something in store for me and that there's a reason I'm still here," Stephen Ward said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from La Coruna, Spain. "I count myself very lucky and very blessed to have been able to survive so many things."

Ward said he suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck but has been discharged from the hospital. He expects to stay in Spain to complete his two-year mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he started six weeks ago.

He was one of at least five Americans hurt Wednesday when the train hurtled off the rails and smashed into a security wall. One American died, the U.S. State Department said. The American victim was identified by the Diocese of Arlington as Ana Maria Cordoba, an administrative employee from northern Virginia.

On Wednesday, Ward was supposed to board an earlier train from Madrid to El Ferrol, a coastal city in northwest Spain where he was sent to begin proselytizing. But he accidentally bought a ticket for the wrong day and instead went on a later train that ended up crashing as it rounded a bend about 60 miles north of Santiago de Compostela.

When he awoke from the crash, somebody was helping him walk out of his train car and crawl out of a ditch where the train car came to rest. He thought he was dreaming for 30 seconds until he felt his blood-drenched face and noticed the scene around him.

Emergency responders arrived within minutes and led him to a grassy area away from the wreckage where he laid for three hours before being taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Ward's parents didn't know he was on the train. They knew only that he was scheduled to leave Wednesday from Madrid, where had spent the first six weeks at a training center learning Spanish and how to be a missionary. When Raymond Ward, 45, saw news of the crash on his cellphone, he figured it had nothing to do with his son.

But an hour later, a Mormon church official in Spain called Raymond Ward and told him his son was on the train – and survived.

A picture of the 6-foot-6 Stephen Ward appeared in a Spanish newspaper, blood running down his face, his father said. Stephen Ward also gave an interview from his hospital bed to The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London recounting the harrowing experience.

"He looks terrible, but he's alive so that's good," Raymond Ward said. "When we talked with him he was in good spirits."

Stephen Ward is no stranger to hospitals, having spent countless hours fighting to survive cancer when he was younger. He's been healthy since then, and is a gregarious, happy young man who plays piano and excelled in school, his dad said. 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," Raymond Ward said. "I'm just grateful that he's alive and that he's my son."

___

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  • Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, right, walks with the President of Galicia Alberto Nunez Feijoo, second from right, at the scene of a train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Emilio Lavandeira, Pool)

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  • Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy walks next to a derailed car at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • A wounded man involved in a train accident arrives at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Salome Montes)

  • Relatives of victims involved in a train accident wait for news outside a victim information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo)

  • Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo)

  • Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

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  • Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

  • Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, center, walks with Spain's Public Works Minister Ana Pastor, right and the President of Galicia Alberto Nunez Feijoo, second from left at the scene of a train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Emilio Lavandeira, Pool)

  • Rescuers, forensics and police officers work at the site of a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013. A train hurtled off the tracks on July 24, 2013 in northwest Spain killing at least 77 passengers and injuring more than 140, an official said today, the country's deadliest rail disaster in more than 40 years. (EMILIO LAVANDEIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A picture taken on July 24, 2013 shows derailed cars on the site of a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela. (MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Emergency personnel take a break while working at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)

  • Emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)

  • Emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo)

  • This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo)

  • This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo)

  • This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo)

  • A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

  • Relatives of the victims of a train accident react outside the Cersia building, where they are attended by psychologists from the Red Cross in Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013. (CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Members of the Red Cross attend to relatives of the victims of a train accident outside the Cersia building in Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013. (CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Relatives of the victims of a train accident react outside the Cersia building, where they are attended by psychologists from the Red Cross in Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013. ( CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Relatives of the victims of a train accident react outside the Cersia building, where they are attended by psychologists from the Red Cross in Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013. (CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Relatives of victims involved in a train accident wait for news at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Salome Montes)

  • Relatives of the victims of a train accident react outside the Cersia building, where they are attended by psychologists from the Red Cross in Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013. (CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Women react as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

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