Feb. 15, 2011 -- Bianca Vera was driving through the winter weather across an icy bridge in Atlanta, Ga., when a driver sideswiped her, knocking her car into the guard rail. When the 22 year old opened her door and saw a truck barreling toward her, she jumped 40 feet into the icy water of Lake Lanier.
"He clips the back of my car and I hit the side guard rail ... and lost control of my car. I get out of my car to see what the damage had been, and when I was going back to the door... I see headlights. That's when I realized that I had to get out of the way. There was a car next to him, it was icy, I knew he couldn't stop. So it was either... gonna hit my car and then hit me or I was gonna jump and take my chances. So that's what I did," said Vera.
As she fell, she heard the truck smash into her car, followed by a series of crashes as more cars piled up.
"I thought I was dead at that point," Vera said.
Vera hit the water, and in immense pain, swam 100 yards to the shore in the dark. She didn't realize it at the time, but she had broken her back in the fall.
"Everything went numb, the water was so cold," Vera said.
Vera screamed, but no one answered.
"I remember swimming and I just, I didn't think I would make it. I remember being in the middle of the water and I could see the cars up there so I started yelling and you know, just yelling, 'Help, please help me.' And nobody would hear me. And I remember thinking, why can't anybody hear me? [I was] just praying that somebody would hear me so I don't have to keep on swimming because I don't think I'll make it. But it wasn't until yesterday that I realized that the only person who needed to hear me was God. And he helped me and he was there, and he was the one who got me to the shore," said Vera, through tears.
The icy swim took nearly an hour. Once on shore, rescuers heard Vera's cries.
"I've never actually been a part of rescuing somebody that has jumped off a bridge. A lot of times those are body recoveries," said a firefighter identified only as Russ.
Quick Thinking Saved Vera's Life
"I think she's very lucky. Most incidents from this bridge jump can cause very serious injuries and the fact that she actually swam from the middle of this bridge to the banks of the shores of Lake Lanier, that just makes for a great story and a great rescue effort," said Deputy Police Chief Jerome Yarbrough.
Looking at what's left of her car, Vera says that jump saved her.
"I can't take anything for granted, nothing at all. And I was obviously put here for a reason. God spared my life. I have a purpose and I just have to find it," Vera said.
Despite all the pain she was in, once in the water, Vera remembered to take off all of her winter clothes and her boots so she could swim faster.
"I was weighed down by all my clothes so I had to start taking things off, you know, my boots, my jacket, my sweater, and then my scarf," said Vera.
She credits her quick thinking to watching television. Apparently Vera and her boyfriend are big fans of the show "Man vs. Wild. "
Vera spent four days in the hospital. In addition to breaking her back and severe bruising, she also suffered from hypothermia in the cold water.