Hockey Ref Narrowly Avoided Buffalo Plane Crash

Even a week later, the crash of Continental Flight 3407 into a residential area of Buffalo continues to have ramifications in the sports world. First it was the Buffalo Sabres players and coaches who witnessed the plane crash from their homes in the tony Clarence Center suburb. Now the ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE has the story of Jeff Smith, an AHL hockey referee whose last-minute change of flights likely saved the lives of he and his family.

Continental Flight 3407

Smith, his wife and their two children were scheduled to fly up from their home in Florida to Newark then Buffalo. Smith would be working games in Toronto, Rochester and Hamilton, while his family came along as a sort of winter vacation. But Continental gate agent Jackie Papa thought the turbulence expected on Flight 3407 would be unsettling for his children, so she suggested they switch flights.

Smith still has the unused boarding passes for the flight, as well as luggage delivered to him at his vacation home with Flight 3407 tags. As you can expect, Smith is struggling with conflicting emotions as he tries to reconcile the fact that his family was spared while so many other people were not:

“Why would they protect me and not 50 others?” he said when reached by phone from his cottage in his native Port Elgin, Canada, where he’s spending a week-long working vacation with his family.

“I actually feel quite uncomfortable. If it was a miracle for me, why not a miracle for the other 50 people?”

Smith’s oldest son Paddon, 7, was assigned to write a daily journal of his winter vacation as a condition of missing school:

Last Friday, he drew a picture of crashed plane. “Above it it said, ‘My plane crashed today,’” Dad said. “Underneath it said, ‘I wasn’t on it.’”

In other AHL travel-related news, the game between the Albany and Bridgeport has been canceled after Albany’s team bus crashed Thursday morning on an icy highway, injuring four players and the team’s radio commentator. It brings back eerie memories of the crash of the then-California Angels bus in 1992 that injured several players and Angels manager Buck Rodgers.