Hundreds of lives were saved by a quick-thinking security van driver who drove his van directly into the path of the rampaging lorry, forcing the terrorist to lose control and crash.
Heroic Santiago Cueva, 27, was sitting in his van outside the Åhlens department store in Stockholm on Friday when he saw the hijacked lorry racing down the street, mowing down everything in its path.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, he said that his first thought was to protect the Swedish parliament, which was just 500 metres down the road from the scene of the attack.
‘First I saw the lorry smash through lamp-posts, benches and flowerpots. Then I saw people flying into the air,’ he said.
‘I felt certain that the lorry was going to continue down Drottninggatan straight towards Parliament. The driver’s aim was clearly to continue down the entire street and hit Parliament.
‘What I do remember most clearly is the noise. There was a loud noise coming from the lorry, the sound of thuds as it hit people, and it just kept growing and growing. It was unpleasant to hear and unpleasant to see.’
In an act of astonishing bravery, Mr Cueva accelerated his van directly into the path of the speeding lorry.
‘I was not scared,’ he said. ‘It was actually a strange feeling when it happened. The lorry was coming towards me and all my focus was on helping protect people in some way. So I drove my van in front of it in order to stop it from getting any further.’
As a result, the lorry was unable to continue its murderous route and was forced to veer headlong into the department store, where it came to a stop and caught fire.
‘The driver must have panicked and lost control,’ Mr Cueva recalled. ‘The lorry bounced back and forth before it hit the department store. I think the terrorist may have let go of the steering wheel. I am certain that he wanted to continue to kill more people and reach Parliament.’
After the lorry smashed into the Åhlens department store, Ecuador-born Mr Cueva, who moved to Sweden in 1996, jumped out of his van to help the wounded and dying.
‘I got out and ran to help people,’ he said. ‘What I saw was awful. I saw people who had been hit and dead people. A woman was lying by the truck with several people trying to help her.
‘There were many parents who couldn’t find their children and they refused to leave, even though the truck caught fire.
‘Me and a couple of security guards agreed that we needed to get people out of there. We didn’t know how uncertain the situation was. We all felt that we were trying to make an effort to save people in case there was a bomb in the lorry.
‘Everything happened so quickly. I don’t think the people around there knew what had happened. There were bodies lying on the ground and people screaming, but many people just stood there trying to take pictures and film with their mobile phones while we were trying to get them to run away from the scene.’
The terrorist was able to escape from the scene of the atrocity by hiding among the panicked crowds, Mr Cueva said.
‘There were so many people around,’ he told MailOnline. ‘The police were on the scene almost immediately. You should know that the driver was actually inside the department store after the crash. I believe he walked into the store and hid among the crowd that was running away. I think that was how he escaped.
‘Neither me or any other security guards saw him leave and I think it was the same for the police officers.’
In the days since the attack, Mr Cueva has been haunted by the horrific sights he witnessed.
‘There are lots of thoughts going through my mind,’ he said. ‘Lots of details keep playing like videos in my head. There’s a lot that needs to be processed, but it is a horrific feeling to see so many innocent people getting injured and killed.’
He is particularly disturbed by the thought that he missed death himself by a matter of minutes.
‘One thing I keep thinking about is that me and a colleague had lunch before we went to the department store, and stayed for 10 minutes longer than we should,’ he said.
‘Had we not stayed that bit longer, we would have been walking in the middle of the street when the lorry came. Those 10 minutes might have saved my life.’
Mr Cueva is receiving support from his family and friends, who are ‘very proud’ of his actions, he said. However, he is modest about his heroism that day.
‘I don’t consider myself as a hero,’ he said. ‘It was my duty. I was wearing a uniform and people look up to someone who wears a uniform. Not in the same way as a policeman, but they listened to me when I told them to leave.
‘At least it feels good that I tried to do something about it.’