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Northern Ontario curling coach Rick Lang weighs in on frightening flight mishap

KINGSTON, Ont. — A new grandfather of twin boys, Northern Ontario coach Rick Lang couldn't wait to return to Thunder Bay this week to be with family and see the new arrivals.

A harrowing flight mishap on his five-stop journey home from the Scotties Tournament of Hearts forced a delay to his plan but left the curling legend feeling as grateful as ever.

Lang suffered minor injuries last Monday when a small plane skidded off the runway after an aborted takeoff at the Dryden Regional Airport. Seven others were on board — including skip Krista McCarville and teammate Ashley Sippala — and there were no life-threatening injuries. 

Sporting a bandage on his right hand and clearly still emotional, Lang weighed in on the scare after arriving at the Tim Hortons Brier on Saturday.

"I can't describe my thoughts at the time," he said. "Things started exploding and I covered my head with my hands. I put my head down, thank God. Honestly the level of violence was significant.

"I think we're very grateful to be alive."

Original flight plans had to be adjusted when the Northern Ontario team made the playoffs last weekend at the national women's championship in Moose Jaw, Sask.

With connections via Toronto and Winnipeg fully booked, they opted to fly from Regina to Winnipeg and make stops in Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout and finally Thunder Bay to get home sooner.

Lang was seated near the front of the Bearskin Airlines plane, with McCarville and Sippala a few rows behind.

He said the plane made a "sudden veer" as it sped down the Dryden runway, eventually hitting a snowbank after leaving the airstrip.

"The propellers we think hit the ice and the snow and started shattering," Lang said. "They started — it got quite violent — they were coming into the cabin. I sat in the very front seat because there was lots of legroom. That was a mistake because there was a propeller (on one side) and a propeller (on the other side) and they were both coming at me."

Lang tried his best to cover his head with his hands.

"I had two shards of wood that went into my hand between my fingers and up," he said. "And then another one that went right through the middle of my hand that I pulled out just because it was such a big piece of wood.

"It would have hurt to leave it in there so I just yanked it out. I was in a little bit of shock obviously."

The passengers later evacuated the plane and Lang was transported to hospital. He spent the night there and drove to Thunder Bay the next day.

"I ended up in emerg with pieces of what I believe was the propeller in my hand," Lang said. "There was wood that came flying through the thing. All the windows were blown out.

"There was holes in the fuselage and I had two pieces of lumber, like a two-by-four about three feet long, on my lap."

In a statement, airport manager Tiffany Coffey said the aircraft "became disabled off the side of runway, 150 meters from the threshold, due to an aborted takeoff on the initial takeoff roll."

The runway was closed for about six hours.

Lang's daughter, Sarah Potts, gave birth on Feb. 18, right around the midway point of the Scotties. The babies — named Leo and Cohen — arrived two months early.

Lang said everyone is healthy and the twins are both nearing the four-pound mark and doing well.

"It was great to see them finally and get home," he said.

Lang, who also coaches the Northern Ontario men's team skipped by Brad Jacobs, originally planned to fly to the Brier on Thursday but decided he wasn't quite ready. 

He got together with McCarville and Sippala on Friday to talk about how they're dealing with the experience and took a direct charter flight to Kingston on Saturday morning.

"We're all just feeling the impacts of it quite frankly," Lang said. "It'll be a while I think before you get over that. I think I'm getting better every day."

Jacobs, ranked No. 1 in the world, was set to begin round-robin play Saturday night against Alberta's Brendan Bottcher at the Leon's Centre.

"The last thing I want is to be a distraction in any way to them or to not be 100 per cent," Lang said. "When I decided to come I thought, 'I'm good. I'm not going to be emotionally impacted here.' We can pull this off."

Lang said it wasn't immediately clear what caused the plane to leave the runway. He added the investigators' reports weren't expected for another two weeks.

"It was frightening, absolutely frightening," Lang said. "But honest to God, I'm so grateful that the girls didn't get hurt and my injuries are minor and we're all alive."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.


Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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