The Newfoundland town of Gander played host to thousands of airline passengers stranded there when American airspace was closed after the
Collected via e-mail, October 2001
We were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt flying over the North Atlantic and I was in my crew rest seat taking my scheduled rest break. All of a sudden the curtains parted violently and I was told to go to the cockpit, right now, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed the crew had one of those "All Business" looks on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. I quickly read the message and realized the importance of it. The message was from Atlanta, addressed to our flight, and simply said, "All airways over the Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination." Now, when a dispatcher tells you to land immediately without suggesting which airport, one can assume that the dispatcher has reluctantly given up control of the flight to the captain. We knew it was a serious situation and we needed to find terra firma quickly. It was quickly decided that the nearest airport was 400 miles away, behind our right shoulder, in Gander, on the island of New Foundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a right turn, directly to Gander, was approved immediately. We found out later why there was no hesitation by the Canadian controller approving our request. We, the
Gander, a town of about 10,000 people (and 550 hotel rooms) in Newfoundland, Canada, lies in the northeastern tip of North America and has long served as a refueling stop for trans-Atlantic flights and a temporary haven for flights diverted from their destinations. On
Responding to radio announcements, the residents and businesses of Gander and other towns supplied toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, blankets and even spare underwear, along with offers of hot showers and guest rooms. Newtel Communications, the telephone company, set up phone banks for passengers to call home. Local television cable companies wired schools and church halls, where passengers watched events unfolding in New York and realized how lucky they were.
There were some with special needs. Carl and Ethna Smith found kosher food through an airport caterer and a new set of kitchenware for an orthodox Jewish family from New York. At the Gander Baptist Church, Gary and Donna House dealt with the needs of four Moldovan refugee families, members of a religious sect who spoke no English and were bewildered by events.
Plenty of grateful Americans who passed through Gander that day took the opportunity to pen appreciative letters similar to the one quoted above when they returned home, such as the following letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
We’re writing to express our appreciation for the people in Canada who so generously assisted the people on US Airways
Flight 3returning to the United States on Sept. 11.We were grounded in Gander, Newfoundland, at 1:30 p.m.on that day and then informed of the events that had taken place in New York, at the Pentagon and “outside of Pittsburgh.”
We spent the next 23 hours locked on the plane until we could be safely cleared to leave the plane, and then we were transported to the Salvation Army in Lewisporte,
45 minutesaway. The people of Lewisporte and the Salvation Army fed us three meals a day and provided countless blankets, toothbrushes and toiletries for the passengers on that flight. The elementary school next to the Salvation Army building canceled classes for its children to provide us with access to the much-needed shower stall and the computer classroom for us to
During that time when all of us were frantic to find out what had happened, make sure our loved ones were safe and contact those who would be missing us in the next few days, our hosts were endlessly cheerful, giving and kind. They dropped everything to cook for us and make us feel less isolated and abandoned during those five days of uncertainty.
When we finally received word of the plane’s clearance for leaving, we said goodbye with bittersweet memories of a group of people of unlimited generosity. This experience will stay with us during this time and continue to remind us that we have more friends than enemies in this world, and we are grateful for the proximity to our country of some of them.
And this letter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
We were flying home from a wonderful vacation in Paris and were about an hour from Newark when an announcement was made that terrorists had attacked New York and Washington and our flight was being diverted to Gander, Newfoundland.
We were the fourth of 37 planes to land in Gander and were kept on the plane for seven hours. Then we proceeded to immigration, where many compassionate people met us. An unidentified woman approached and put her arm around us and wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help us. At this point we were greatly concerned about our two sons who work in Manhattan. She took us to a phone, where we called our oldest son, who assured us that he and his brother were safe.
From there we were put on school buses and taken to the College of the North Atlantic. Many ordinary, caring people met us and made all
300 passengersfeel welcome. We were given blankets and pillows from their homes. We stayed for two nights and three days. We slept on the floor, as cots could not be rounded up fast enough. We shared our classroom with 18 othersand a dog.
Everyone was extraordinarily thoughtful of each other. One woman must have put her life on hold and was constantly checking on us. She even came to the airport when we finally left to make sure we all were fine. I never saw her without a smile. The lady who ran the cafeteria along with many neighbors made hot meals and brought in casseroles each day. Students helped us to use
e-mail,and we were able to use the phone to call our family. No organization with financial backing was behind this – this was a call to neighbors and friends to come and help those of us in need.
We will never be able to think of Gander, Newfoundland, without remembering all the goodness and kindness that was showered upon us by our neighbors and friends from Canada.
And yes, a Gander Flight 15 college scholarship fund was established for high school students in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, by passengers, crew members and friends of Delta Flight 15.
Other towns in Newfoundland and Labrador (and across Canada) also took in temporarily displaced passengers with hospitality that day and are equally deserving of our gratitude.
A variant of this item circulated in 2012 identified Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as the Delta Flight 15 passenger who established a scholarship trust fund for Lewisporte high school students. Romney was not a passenger on that flight, nor did he establish a scholarship trust fund for Lewisporte students.