Within seconds, their thoughts went from dinner plans and relieving baby sitters to matters of life and death.
"All I could think of was, 'God, this was not the way I wanted to die,'" survivor Kelly Kahle said to "Good Morning America."
For hundreds of people traveling over the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis when it collapsed, Wednesday night was a living nightmare.
Kahle and her friend Kimberly Brown were in one of the 50 cars that plummeted into the Mississippi River when the bridge collapsed. Luckily, they survived the ordeal to tell their tales.
Every day, more than 140,000 cars pass over the 40-year-old span. Kahle said she knew something was about to happen as they drove across the bridge.
"It felt like it was oscillating a little bit, and we saw the road rise up in front of us before we fell," she said.
In another part of the rubble, new mom Melissa Hughes' car was crushed underneath another car that fell from the broken bridge.
"The sound is gone from my memory," Hughes said, "but the feeling is kind of a free-fall feeling at a amusement-park ride and that it can't be real."
Sitting in her car, Hughes said she felt the impact of a car, but never imagined it was on top of her. While she was trapped, Hughes told "GMA," all she could think about was her 3-month-old daughter, Olivia.
"I wanted her there once I got out," Hughes said. "I wanted to hold her."
And her wish was granted. Shortly after escaping from her car, she was reunited with daughter, thanks to her husband, who brought Olivia to the scene.
Amid the collapsed concrete, many observers' eyes and cameras were immediately drawn to a yellow school bus teetering precariously against one of the guard rails.
"We ran up the incline. There was a school bus full of 8- to 14-year-olds and we literally had to carry them off the bridge," said one survivor who was on the I-35 highway in Minneapolis when it collapsed into the Mississippi River.
There were 61 people on board the bus; 52 of them, children. They were part of an inner-city youth summer program and were on their way back from a day at a water park.
"Me and about two or three other men were actually taking the kids off the bridge and actually lifting them. … There was screaming, crying. Dust just started coming up everywhere," another bridge survivor said.
Miraculously, even after falling nearly 65 feet, no one on the bus was seriously injured or killed. All of the children have been safely reunited with their families.
Gary Babineau, whose nearby pickup truck was engulfed in flames, walked away with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises. But Babineau wasn't concerned with his truck because he was too close to the school bus full of children to think about his own safety. He rushed to the bus to see what he could do to help.
"I was down grabbing kids, too. There were so many kids and they were screaming and we were just carrying them to safety or telling them just to run," Babineau said. "Everybody was helping out as best they could."
The kids and the adults on the bus are safe now, but the survivors said it was a terrifying plummet.
"I just felt the bus go down, then I opened my eyes and I see dust. Everybody was trying to get out. We were all screaming," said Jeisy Aguiza, one of the adults on the bus.
Babineau said he wouldn't be alive today had he not been wearing his seat belt.
"I probably would have went through the windshield," he said. "I'm just so glad I was wearing it. So, thanks, Mom, for telling me to wear my seat belt."
At least four people are confirmed dead and 79 were injured in the catastrophe that left a horrific pile of rubble. As many as 20 to 30 people are reported missing and city officials expect the death toll to climb as the recovery effort continues today.
Moments after the collapse, the injured were pulled from their cars and rushed to waiting ambulances.
"I fell about 30, 40 feet. On the way down I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead," said one survivor who plummeted into the river. "My truck was completely facedown. It was folded in half. I can't believe I am alive."
For family members desperate to find loved ones, the search was sometimes frustrating.
"Two of 'em are in here. One's at Robbinsdale [hospital]. We don't know where the other one's at," said a distraught family member who had not been able to locate her sister.
As the recovery resumes today, the city is coming together.
"Our hearts and our prayers go out tonight to the families and the friends of the victims of one of the most tragic nights in the history of Minneapolis," Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said.