We were driving through the majestic Swiss Alps on a family vacation when, without warning, our van lost all power. My husband, Floyd, pulled over to the side of the alpine road and tried to restart the engine. Suddenly there was a loud bang. “It’s okay,” Floyd said. “Just a backfire.”

But something made me look out the rear window. To my horror, I saw flames of fire coming out from under the van, spreading across the back of the vehicle. “There’s a fire!” I cried. Floyd reacted instantly. “Everyone out of the van—now!” he yelled, running around to open the side doors for us. Our two girls, ages sixteen and six, quickly climbed out of the van and ran down the roadside out of harm’s way. Our four-year-old son, shoeless and frightened, was next into his father’s arms. He was sent running away from the burning van which we expected to explode at any minute.

The baby and I were last. It seemed to take forever to unfasten the harness holding him in his car seat. Floyd helped us out, and we ran, too.

A cloud of oily black smoke was rising from the burning van as a young French couple stopped. The man ran to telephone for help. His wife helped me calm the children.

Next a truck driver stopped, and began to put out the fire with an extinguisher from his truck. Then he helped my husband rescue most of our baggage. The van continued to burn.

By now, farmers had wandered out of their homes to watch the excitement. Soon a large fire truck and police cars arrived. Quickly, the fire crew put out the blaze and retrieved the rest of our baggage.

There we were, our suitcases scattered beside the burned-out van, stranded at the side of a highway in Switzerland—a long way from our home in California. But we felt relieved and thankful to be safe and to have most of our baggage as well.

“Anyone here speak English?” my husband asked hopefully. There were only blank looks and a few shrugs.

Then a man and his son stepped forward. “You come to my house,” he said in halting English. “You come to my house.” He pointed across the valley to a small cottage. It took three trips in his little car to get all of us and our baggage there. Our new-found friend’s wife and family fed us, put our weary children to bed, and helped us sort and repack all our things.

The wife spoke perfect English, and we stayed up late into the night talking with our hosts, but it wasn’t until the next morning as we prepared to leave that we discovered they were Latter-day Saints, too. It made our host family even more special to us.

That day in the Alps was the most memorable part of our vacation. We will never forget our frightening experience. Nor shall we forget that Swiss family—brothers and sisters in the gospel whom we found by accident—and the love they showed for us.

Illustrated by Rob Colvin

Show References

  • Karen L. Brown, a homemaker, is a Primary teacher in her Encitas, California, ward.