A 109-car freight train collided with a snowplow in central Minnesota, pitching the truck driver through his vehicle’s windshield, authorities said.

After tumbling over the truck’s hood, 31-year-old Darin Pierce recalled a day later, “The next thing I remember is hitting the ground. I stood up and said, ‘What the heck just happened? I saw the train that went by, and I said, ‘I just got hit by a train.’ ”

The husband and father of two adolescent girls said from his home in Pennock, Minn., that he’s grateful to come away from the wreck Wednesday morning with 15 stitches in his thumb, a slight fracture in his spine that will heal on its own, and many bumps and bruises.

“If I had been 4 feet further across the tracks, I don’t think I would have survived,” he said.

The collision occurred about 8:50 a.m. at the rail crossing on 493rd Avenue in Brooten, according to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office.

Pierce, driving a truck contracted by North Fork Township and the city of Brooten for snow removal, was heading south on 493rd and stopped at the railway crossing, authorities said. He proceeded forward and collided with the eastbound train.

“I pulled up there … and there are trees off to the left,” Pierce said. “I looked. … I don’t remember hearing a horn or seeing the train.”

The impact tossed Pierce, who was not wearing a seat belt, through his front windshield.

“If I would’ve had my seat belt on, I would’ve been better off,” said Pierce, at first taken by ambulance to Glacial Ridge Hospital in nearby Glenwood, and from there to St Cloud Hospital. “I was definitely lucky, and I should’ve worn my seat belt. I always thought I was invincible and I didn’t need them.”

The truck lost its front-mounted snow blade and its sandbox from the impact, and the Canadian Pacific train’s locomotive and an empty tanker car directly behind were also extensively damaged, the Sheriff’s Office said.

A Canadian Pacific spokesman said two of the three employees on the train sought medical attention.

The collision shut down several intersections for more than 3 hours in western Stearns County while the incident was investigated.

Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings said that Pierce’s near-death experience “should serve as a reminder to motorists of how important it is to look carefully in both directions before entering a … crossing. Trains cannot stop quickly, and the law is clear that motorists must yield right of way to approaching trains.”

Cummings also said rail investigators, as part of their overall inquiry, have determined that the train did sound its horn before impact.