The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede Aug 14, 2003 Amazon.ca Kindle CDN$ 11.99 4.6 out of 5 stars 688 reviews Amazon.com Kindle US$ 9.48
Review by Karl Homann
On September 11, 2001, I was teaching an early morning Business Writing course in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We were in our computer lab when I heard people running around in the hallway, shouting that something was happening in New York. I stopped the class and searched for a US news channel on my console computer and via the overhead projector put the news on the big screen in front of the lab. Thus, we saw, in real time, the second plane fly straight into the second tower and disappear in a ball of fire and smoke. Our eyes could not believe what we saw. It was too bizarre and surreal, and yet real.
Of course, at that time we did not know what was going on in Gander, Newfoundland, 5800 km away, or for that matter at other airports all across Canada.
About the author: Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in Talk, The New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.
His book is based on interviews with residents of Gander and passengers of the planes who were diverted from their original destination in the US to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.
Instead of a regular book review, allow me to post the following NBC news report from 2011, ten years after the event.
9/11: Ten Years Later NBC NEWS
By ROB GILLIES updated 9/4/2011 12:56:19 PM ET
GANDER, Newfoundland — To hear something nice about 9/11, talk to "the plane people," the passengers who wound up on the island of Newfoundland that day because U.S. airspace was shut.
Talk to Laura Louie about the overwhelming kindness she and her two small daughters experienced in this distant corner of Canada, briefly transformed by a twist of history into an international aviation hub. "We were completely taken care of," she remembers. "For everyone else, 9/11 has a heavy connotation. But for me it was when I was reminded what humanity is."
Or listen to Monica Burke, a 44-year-old emergency dispatcher from Seattle: "Our whole world was in chaos. We didn't even know where we were except that we were in some weird time zone in Canada. I didn't know when I was getting home, but these people basically put their lives on hold. I mean, their kids couldn't go to school because we were using the schools as shelters.
"Bus drivers came off strike to drive us. Pharmacists came to the shelters and said, 'What do you need?' and nobody asked for money. It's pretty incredible that they were able to respond like that, especially with short notice."
Ten years later, that huge, comforting hug of Gander, Newfoundland still warms the memories of the 6,600 passengers who descended without warning on the town of 10,000. Many of them have made deep friendships with the islanders who cared for them, and some will travel here for the 10th anniversary commemorations.
Across a distance of 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) from the Pacific to Atlantic, Monica Burke has stayed in regular phone and email contact with Beulah Cooper, the woman who opened her home to her as the horror of 9/11 sank in. She visited her on the first anniversary, and is returning for the 10th. Cooper, now 70, keeps a large collection of thank-you letters from the many people she helped in different ways.
Among those she comforted are Dennis and Hannah O'Rourke, an elderly couple whose New York firefighter son, Kevin, went missing at the World Trade Center. He died. The O'Rourkes have remained friends with Cooper and have been back to Gander, whose people Hannah O'Rourke feels eternally indebted to. "They are so full of love and kindness and they can't do enough for you," she said. "I'll never forget it. Beulah was a mother figure."
Of the hundreds of flights blocked that day, more than 200 were diverted to Canada, with no warning, recalls David Collenette, transport minister. "They shut down U.S. airspace, period, and we had to pick up the pieces. I don't fault them for that. It was an absolute tragedy," Collenette told The Associated Press. " About the author Jim. DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in Talk, The New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.
His book is based on interviews with residents of Gander and passengers of the planes who were diverted from their original destination in the US to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.We were informed that the United States had closed its airspace to all incoming traffic, all planes were grounded in the United States, and that any planes flying into the U.S. airspace would be shot down. Frankly it was as brutal as that."
He said that despite intelligence reports about more airborne terrorists possibly approaching, he had to let the aircraft in, or else they might attempt unauthorized landings or crash into the Atlantic. "As it was, we landed 33,000 people in a matter of a few hours."
Norman Mineta, then U.S. transportation secretary, had a different recollection of the day. "After I closed U.S. airspace I realized that we've got these planes coming in from Europe and Asia and I then called David and I said, 'Hey David, we need your help,'" Mineta said, asking Collenete if Canada could take the incoming planes. "He put me on hold and within a minute or so he said, 'We'll take them all,'" Mineta told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Mineta said he was surprised that Collenette didn't mention their conversation to the AP, but added that Canada "did a great service" for the U.S. that day.
The Canadians shunted the traffic away from Toronto and Montreal to the eastern seaboard, and obscure, little used Gander got to relive its glory days as a stopover point for trans-Atlantic aviation before long-distance flights became possible. Built in 1938 in anticipation of the coming world war, it had the world's longest runway, and on 9/11 it was the second busiest, taking in 38 flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia's 47.
Flight crews quickly filled Gander's hotels, so passengers were taken to schools, fire stations, church halls. The Canadian military flew in 5,000 cots. Stores donated blankets, coffee machines, barbecue grills. Unable to retrieve their luggage, passengers became dependent on the kindness of strangers, and it came in the shape of clothes, showers, toys, banks of phones to call home free of charge, an arena that became a giant walk-in fridge full of donated food.
Once all the planes had landed or turned back to Europe, Gander's air traffic controllers switched to cooking meals in the building nonstop for three days. "We went from air traffic controllers to cooks and cleaners of pots and pans," said Dan O'Brien, a supervisor with Nav Canada, the civil air navigation service, who brought passengers home to shower.
Doug Dillon switched from controlling traffic to delivering medical prescriptions to passengers in need. His father, Des, led the efforts for the Canadian Red Cross and his brother and mother, joined in the efforts to make the guests comfortable. So did neighboring communities such as Gambo and Lewisporte.
"It still makes me cry when I think about it. They were incredible," said Barbara Groh-Wahlstrom, who stayed with the Salvation Army in Gambo and met her future husband there. "They had people working in the kitchen 24 hours a day and it turned out to be for five days. We were 187 passengers and they fed us three meals a day. They celebrated us like we were five-star guests. They were so full of love."
Louie, who is 46 and now married to actor Woody Harrelson, remembered a family across the street who saw her daughters aged 5 and 8, and invited them into their home, let them play for two hours, and offered them a change of clothes. "I couldn't believe it," she said by phone. "I mean, we live in Hawaii where aloha is pretty present, but I felt so much aloha there, so welcoming, so trusting."
Des Dillon, Gander Mayor Claude Elliott, Beulah Cooper are among those being honored in Washington, D.C. at a ceremony on Thursday. A piece of a steel beam from the former World Trade Center, donated by the Bethpage Volunteer Fire Department on Long Island, will be unveiled in Gander on Sept. 11.
One of the Americans coming back is Shirley Brooks-Jones. She was so overwhelmed by the experience of 2001 that as her plane left Gander, she told her fellow passengers over the cabin address system that she wanted to set up a scholarship fund for students in Lewisporte, where they stayed.
The Lewisporte area Flight 15 scholarship fund is now worth close to $1.5 million and has put 134 students through school. Brooks-Jones has been back 20 times, to present the scholarships every June and to attend each anniversary.
"Since nobody would take any money from us there we wanted to do something so that those people there would never forget what they had done for us," she said by phone from Dublin, Ohio. "They just put their lives on hold to take care of the plane people."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press
Another interesting fact is that on the other side of the continent, in Seattle, Washington, 14 years later, a musical about Gander drew big crowds. I suppose, the musical was staged in December, just before Christmas, to reflect the season’s sentiments of peace, kindness, love and wonder.
Musical about Gander on 9/11 selling out in Seattle
CBC News Posted: Dec 06, 2015 9:00 PM NT Last Updated: Dec 06, 2015 9:00 PM NT
A musical based on Gander's efforts during the 9/11 terrorist attacks is breaking box office records on the opposite side of the continent. "The show is now officially the highest grossing work that the theatre has ever done in its 53-year history" said Jeffrey Herrmann, managing director at Seattle Repertory Theatre in Washington. "I have never seen anything sell like this show in my entire career," he said.
The musical, Come from Away, depicts September 11th, 2001 from Gander's perspective. Thirty-eight planes diverted to Gander International Airport that day. Community members took the passengers in.
The Seattle Repertory Theatre seats 865 people, and Herrmann says it is selling around 1,200 tickets a day. "The [theatre's] top 11 or 12 sales days for a single show now are occupied by Come from Away," he said. He expects they'll run out of tickets in the next ten days.
The managing director says a number of people who were stranded in Gander during 9/11 have come to watch the musical. "They say the show really captured it beautifully and very accurately," he said. "Sort of what the spirit was like that week, and what happened and how people think about and feel about those magical couple of days in that community."
“Come From Away” was originally scheduled to run for 38 shows. It's now been extended to 44. The curtain closes on December 20th.