Friday, September 11, 2009

Anouther Story From September 11th 2001

Halifax Airport

We all know what happened in New York that halted air traffic into and out of the United States on September 11th 8 years ago today. The images are seared in our minds of the day that the towers came down, the Pentagon was attacked and a flight crashed into a farm field in Pennsylvania. As many of my readers are Americans I thought I would talk about another aspect of September 11th. This part of the story took place in Canada. As the drama unfolded on the east coast the United States made the defensive move to stop all forms of air traffic coming and going into and out of US airports. At any one point and time there are hundreds of planes in the air and headed towards US destinations. Those planes that left European starting points and could turn back did,those that couldn't landed at various Canadian airports, more specifically most of the planes (almost 60) landed at Halifax Nova Scotia. That stranded over 12,000 passengers on the ground, the is equivalent to 3.5% of the total population of Halifax. Others landed in Gander, Newfoundland (population 49,000) along with 20 or so other planes.

The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. Red Cross reported that they had processed about 10,500 passengers from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander. What came next was so uplifting and incredible as Gander and the surrounding small communities, within a 75-km radius, had closed all the high schools, meeting halls, lodges and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up. ALL the high school students HAD to volunteer to take care of their "GUESTS." Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 km from Gander. There, they were put in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were given no choice and taken to private homes!

Stranded passengers start waking up on Thursday morning Sept. 13, 2001 in Gander, Nfld. in the gymnasium of Gander Academy, an elementary school. The town of 10,500 people was strained to the limit by the unexpected arrival of literally thousands of passengers. Many were still stranded in Gander Thursday night.

There were doctors on call, and they had both male and female nurses available who stayed with the crowd for the duration. Phone calls and e-mails to U.S. and Europe were available for everyone, once a day. During the days, the passengers were given a choice of "excursion" trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools for those who elected to stay put. Others were driven to the eatery of their choice and fed. They were given tokens to go to the local Laundromat to wash their clothes, since their luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for those unfortunate travelers.

The airport at Gander is not an international airport the size you would expect say in New York or Toronto... It is small and barely large enough for large jumbo jets to land.. let alone multiple jets. But they did with little notice take all those planes and their passengers in... Passengers bonded to the new found communities that welcomed them in! When the world, for many, seemed to be falling apart, many Canadians, in Gander, Halifax and many other places, came together to open their houses, stores and hearts to perfect strangers. And I dare to predict that neither the Canadians nor the strangers will ever forget the experience!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, this part of that day has always fascinated me that this story has for the most part been ignored. I read somewhere that on one of the diverted flights the pilot came on and said something like "ladies and gentleman we are diverting to Canada because the United States of America is under attack and they have closed all airspace." I've often wondered what went though the passenger's minds at that moment and then how they fared in those under prepared Canadian towns for that many people. God bless Canada and God bless the USA. And thanks to the Canadian people that opened their homes and hearts. I wonder how many new friendships were made on that day of tragedy and how many still endure to this day.