The personal impressions from September 11, 2001 run deep. Everyone who was of age, seems to be able to trace their steps through that day and immediately relive their feelings.
There is one story from that horrific day that you might not have heard about. It showcases how generosity and the human spirit thrive in alarming times and situations. It is told in an email by a Delta flight attendant who had the unfortunate experience of being mid air during the terror attacks.
Her plane and 52 others were rerouted to the Canadian province of Newfoundland. The passengers and crew were stuck there for several days. But, the experience this flight attendant shared demonstrates that the inconvenience was trumped by incredible generosity from the people who live there. The number of travelers was nearly double that of the town of Gander which hosted them.
“We were about five hours out of Frankfurt flying over the North Atlantic. All of a sudden, I was told to go to the cockpit 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. It was from Atlanta, addressed to our flight, and simply said, “All airways over the Continental U.S. are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”
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 the town of Gander, on the Canadian island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a turn to Gander was approved immediately.
We found out later why there was no hesitation by the Canadian controller approving our request. We were told to get the airplane ready for an immediate landing. While this was going on, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area.
A few minutes later, I went back to the cockpit to find out that some airplanes had been hijacked and were being flown into buildings all over the U.S.
We decided to make an announcement and LIE to the passengers for the time being. We told them that an instrument problem had arisen on the airplane and that we needed to land at Gander, to have it checked.
When we landed, we saw that there were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world. After we parked on the ramp, the captain announced the little bit we knew about the situation in the U.S. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief.
Gander control told us to stay put. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts.
Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were flying U.S. flags.
Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, a while away from Gander. 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 taken to private homes. A young pregnant lady was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour urgent care facility.
Gander had promised us any and all medical attention if needed; medicine, water, and lavatory servicing.
The locals were so friendly and they just knew that we were the “plane people.”
We found out that Gander and the surrounding small communities had closed all the high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to a mass lodging area.
Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up. ALL the high school students HAD to volunteer taking care of the “guests.”
During the day, the passengers were taken on “excursion trips.” Some people went on boat cruises on 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 school. Others were driven to the eatery of their choice and were fed.
They were given tokens to go to the local Laundromat to wash their clothes, since their luggage was still on the aircraft. Every single need was met for those unfortunate travelers.
When it came time for the passengers to fly back to Atlanta, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everybody knew everybody else by their name. They were swapping stories of their stay.
Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a party flight. The passengers were exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.
And then a strange thing happened. One of our business class passengers approached me and asked if he could speak over the P.A. to his fellow passengers.
We never, never, allow that. But something told me to get out of his way.
The gentleman picked up the P.A. and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers.
He further stated that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of the town of Lewisporte. He said he was going to set up a trust fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers.
When the paper with donations got back to us, it totaled $14,500.”
This is a true story that can pull at your heartstrings. As of 2011, the Flight 15 scholarship fund totaled $1.5 million and helped put 134 students through school. NBC News even profiled the story of the small Canadian town that graciously hosted so many people while the world was in crisis.
Where were you on September 11, 2001? How does this story make you feel about that day? Please comment below.
H/T: Inspire More