WINNIPEG — A team of taekwondo athletes from Winnipeg is lucky to be alive after narrowly missing an airport explosion that killed dozens of people in Brussels Tuesday.
Jae Park is the master instructor of Winnipeg’s Tae Ryong Park Academy. Park and a group of athletes were on their way to the Brussels airport to return home after an international tournament, when the terminal explosion occurred.
Park said the team would have been in the airport during the explosion if one of their teammates had not been running 15 minutes late that morning.
“I would usually be angry that he was late,” said Park. “Thank God he was.”
Once every athlete was ready to go, the team loaded into three vans and headed towards the airport.
The first vehicle started driving into the airport’s departure terminal when the bomb exploded. The team saw smoke billowing from the building, he said.
“They saw some people running out of the terminal, a couple of people with their arms all bloody,” Park told Global News over the the phone from Brussels. “People were running out with their suitcases in a panic.”
Park is in Brussels with two coaches, two parents and 10 students – some as young as 11. They’re all digesting the attack in different ways.
“For the coaches and the parents I think it was a little more emotional for us just understanding the implications of a terrorist attack,” said Park. “I think for the younger teens it was more the gut reaction of fear.”
The team was in Europe for the Belgium Open in Lommel, Belgium for a taekwondo tournament. Some of the fighters won medals and are another step closer to competing in the 2020 Olympics.
LISTEN: Jae Park, master and owner of TRP Academy in Winnipeg explains narrowly missing the attack in Brussels
Joanne Park is still shaken. Her brother is Jae Park and her son Andrew and several other family members were part of the group.
“I got a phone call at three in the morning saying there was a bomb going off at the airport, of course I panicked.”
Park said she was thankful to hear the team was late arriving to the airport. But this won’t stop her from letting her son compete abroad again.
“We can’t let them stop us,” said Park. “I worry but I’m not going to deter them from travelling.”
On Monday they stayed overnight in Brussels, taking the students around the city to see tourist destinations.
“It’s crazy. The night before the explosions we were in all of the places the bombs went off. You don’t know what could have happened,” Jae Park said.
The team drove to Paris and will catch a flight home Friday.
“I look forward to seeing them on Good Friday,” said Joanne Park. “I’ll just give them a big huge and make sure they are safe.”
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks that went off at the airport and in the city’s subway, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens Tuesday.
The two airport blasts, at least one of them blamed on a suicide bomber, left behind a chaotic scene of splattered blood in the departure lounge as windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed and travellers streamed out of the smoky building.
About an hour later, another bomb exploded on a rush-hour subway train near the European Union headquarters. Terrified passengers had to escape through darkened tunnels to safety.
WATCH: Coverage of Brussels attack
Authorities also released a photo taken from closed-circuit TV of three men pushing luggage carts, saying two of them apparently were the suicide bombers and that the third – dressed in a light-colored coat, black hat and glasses – was at large. They urged the public to contact them if they recognized him.
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