Stephane Erbs was heading back to his car with his wife, Rachel, and their two children after the Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice when he saw the white truck bearing down on them.
His first instinct was to throw his seven-year-old son, Celion, out of harm’s way, while his wife pushed their daughter, 12-year-old Noemi, to safety.
“My wife told me, ‘Look at that truck!’ It was coming very fast. We just had time to throw the children,” the 42-year-old Frenchman told The Associated Press. “After that, everything was confused.”
The boy suffered a scrape on his hand, his daughter was unharmed, but a day after the Thursday night attack, his 40-year-old wife was nowhere to be found.
Erbs said he threw Celion “in the direction of the wall” next to the beach that runs along the southern French city’s famous promenade. He saw bodies being tossed in the air by the truck — he couldn’t say how many.
“It was like a video game. It was crazy. Like a war situation,” he said.
The truck’s bumper hit Erbs in the back as he tossed his son to safety, breaking seven ribs, leaving his shirt in tatters and his skin shredded. The truck’s tires slashed his jeans and tore the shoes off his feet. The pain was intense.
On Friday, Erbs and the children stood outside the Pasteur Hospital where they were treated, still wearing their hospital bracelets. His ribs were wrapped, he was wearing a white shirt and sneakers donated by the hospital, and they were joined by his wife’s parents as they waited to hear where Rachel might be.
Her name did not appear on lists at Pasteur and he hoped she would be at another hospital in the city.
Erbs said he saw his wife struck by the truck and that “she was very bad”. But in the confusion and rescue afterward, they lost each other. Only her bag was found, with a phone inside.
With many still searching for news of their loved ones after the attack, a Facebook site called “SOS Nice” attracted posts Friday from people hoping to be reunited with missing relatives. It quickly filled up with photos, appeals, and — in some cases — good news.
A nine-year-old boy, his mother and older sister “have finally been found!” announced one post late Friday afternoon, atop a photo of a child sitting in front of a birthday cake.
“More and more people have been found and it’s all thanks to you, your shares, etc” another Facebook post said.
But other appeals were still awaiting an answer.
“No news from Claire who was at the fireworks,” one post said. “She’s 18 years old. If you find her or if you have information, please contact us. Thanks for sharing as much as possible.”
Relatives also were seeking news about a Scottish couple, 27-year-old Carole Annie Cowan and 30-year-old Ross Cowan, who were on vacation in Nice and reported missing.
Carole Annie Cowan’s sister, Amy Stanton, said she had asked Britain’s foreign office for help and officials said they were working with French authorities to get more information. She also posted an urgent appeal on Facebook for any information.