The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland
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"For the better part of a week, nearly every man, woman, and child in Gander and the surrounding smaller towns stopped what they were doing so they could help. They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed."
When thirty-eight jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001, due to the closing of United States airspace, the citizens of this small community were called upon to come to the aid of more than six thousand displaced travelers.
Roxanne and Clarke Loper were excited to be on their way home from a lengthy and exhausting trip to Kazakhstan, where they had adopted a daughter, when their plane suddenly changed course and they found themselves in Newfoundland. Hannah and Dennis O'Rourke, who had been on vacation in Ireland, were forced to receive updates by telephone on the search for their son Kevin, who was among the firefighters missing at the World Trade Center. George Vitale, a New York state trooper and head of the governor's security detail in New York City who was returning from a trip to Dublin, struggled to locate his sister Patty, who worked in the Twin Towers. A family of Russian immigrants, on their way to the Seattle area to begin a new life, dealt with the uncertainty of conditions in their future home.
The people of Gander were asked to aid and care for these distraught travelers, as well as for thousands more, and their response was truly extraordinary. Oz Fudge, the town constable, searched all over Gander for a flight-crew member so that he could give her a hug as a favor to her sister, a fellow law enforcement officer who managed to reach him by phone. Eithne Smith, an elementary-school teacher, helped the passengers staying at her school put together letters to family members all over the world, which she then faxed. Bonnie Harris, Vi Tucker, and Linda Humby, members of a local animal protection agency, crawled into the jets' cargo holds to feed and care for all of the animals on the flights. Hundreds of people put their names on a list to take passengers into their homes and give them a chance to get cleaned up and relax.
The Day the World Came to Town is a positively heartwarming account of the citizens of Gander and its surrounding communities and the unexpected guests who were welcomed with exemplary kindness.
As Clark, Bruce, and Jason went to pick up the van, Roxanne called her mother back in Texas to see if she had any ideas. Sure enough, she did. And she could sum it up in two words: the Puccis. While Roxanne and Clark were stranded in Canada, Mike and Leslie Pucci had been calling Roxanne’s mother to see if they were okay. Roxanne and Clark knew the Puccis because both couples had used the same agency to adopt their first kids. When the Puccis learned Roxanne and Clark were trying to find a way across the border, Mike Pucci volunteered the help of his mother, Pat Fletcher, who lives in Stueben, Maine, about fifty miles from the Canadian border.
She knew when they had left Russia, and she knew when they were due into Dallas, but she couldn’t quite figure out what time it was in Gander. All she knew for sure was that she had been on this plane for what seemed like an eternity. Two hours after being diverted to Newfoundland, she still didn’t know why airspace over the United States had been closed. The pilot had offered no additional information and none of the phones on the plane worked, not even individuals’ cell phones. Roxanne’s immediate concern was getting in touch with her family.
Captain Beverley Bass, the American Airlines pilot, sympathized with Fast’s plight. The pilot tried relaying the urgency of the situation to airport officials in Gander, but the situation on the ground was so chaotic there was nothing they could do. No one was going to get off any of the planes until the RCMP could secure the airport and find a way to process all of the passengers to guarantee they wouldn’t mistakenly let a terrorist slip through their grasp. Fast could do nothing but sit and wait along with everyone else.
John’s in the east, a Screecher held a rotting cod in his hands and had people line up to kiss it. It was the natives’ good-natured way of sharing a little bit of their past with their guests. Nowhere was that enthusiasm greater than in Gambo at the Trailways Pub. By some estimates, more than 150 of the 900 passengers were Screeched-In over a two-day period. Without question, the Trailways was the most popular spot in Gambo during these days. Every night the passengers came in and drank the place dry.
McKeon asked his father. “They’re all gone,” he said. “And the firefighters? ” “Yeah,” his father said mournfully. Hearing it from his father was the first time McKeon believed the unimaginable had happened. Moving around the plane, Vitale had an idea. He was a talk-radio junkie who loved listening to the stations in the city. The pilot was probably right; parked on the ground, they couldn’t pick up most commercial radio stations, but Vitale knew 770 AM, WABC, had a particularly strong signal and at night could be heard as far away as Maine.