SEATTLE — As a serious hockey player, 20-year-old Bryce Kenning’s taken some pretty hard hits.
He was prepared for more of them at a drop-in hockey game in Bellingham on Thursday night. He wasn’t ready for the one he took after his orange Subaru nose-dived from a crumbling Interstate 5 bridge into the Skagit River.
If a passenger side door hadn’t been slightly open after the crash, Kenning said he may not have gotten out of his car alive.
Kenning said he was able to momentarily slam on his brakes as he saw the bridge collapsing. He flew into a giant puff of smoke and down into the river.
“I saw the trusses falling with me, and I seemed to fall perfectly in the middle of everything,” Kenning said.
When he landed in the water, the back of his car had been smashed and water was pouring in and reaching belly height. He said it was too late to get out his driver-side window or door and there was too much water in front of his windshield to try to crack it and escape.
“As part of a last-ditch effort, I calmed down a little bit and noticed the passenger side door was open a little,” Kenning said. With a couple hard hits on the door, he was able to open it and climb on top of the Subaru.
“At that point, I’m wondering if the bridge is done falling — is my car going to explode? Do I try to swim to the bank?” Kenning said. But first responders on the bridge told him to stay put until rescuers took him away about an hour later.
Meanwhile, several friends knew immediately that the orange Subaru shown on the news was probably Kenning’s and started calling his family.
The first was the mother of one of Kenning’s friends.
“She asked me, ‘Do you know where Bryce is?’ ” said Kenning’s mother, Sheila Kenning. “And I don’t talk to this woman. So I was like, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ ”
As soon as the caller explained what had happened, Kenning’s mother said she rushed out the door to the hospital.
A friend also texted Kenning’s sister, Claire, who was at a gym in Everett with their father, Barrie.
“I just broke down crying and my father said ‘Calm down. It’s a one-in-a-million chance it’s Bryce,’ ” she said. “Then when we found out my father couldn’t stop crying.”
After spending more than two hours “talking to God like I’ve never,” Sheila Kenning said she was the first family member to find her son safe and sound.
“You just go from utter disbelief that this is happening to, ‘Oh my God, he’s whole, he’s OK,’ ” Sheila Kenning said. “He was comforting me.”
After getting home at midnight, the family ate together and decided to lighten things up with some episodes of the TV show “The Office.” They got less than an hour of sleep before media from across the country started calling at 6 a.m., but said they were grateful to share a story that ended up much less tragic than it could have been. A couple in a separate vehicle also survived the fall.
“It’s shocking that no one else was on the bridge at the time,” Kenning said. “Even to the split-second, it was the most lucky scenario.”