Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Canadians Provided Solace And Comfort During 9/11 Attack

Since this week marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on America by primitive middle eastern Islamic terrorists that resulted in the deaths of some 3,000 men, women, and children I looked for a bright spot to commemorate that terrible tragedy.

I found it in the account of an anonymous Delta Flight 15 airline attendant who discovered kindness, generosity, and humanity in a community of strangers in remote Gander, Newfoundland, Canada the day the savages attacked.

This is a true story that some of you may already have heard as there’s a book written about it by journalist Jim DeFede titled “The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland”.

There is also a musical about that event  titled “Come From Away”. There will be a performance of it locally at Jacksonville’s Times-Union Center December 7-12. You can  purchase tickets online.

Sadly, I don’t have a name for the flight attendant author.

As my friend and American Spectator writer Larry Thornberry said the story “is a stark contrast to the savagery of those who attacked us on 9/11 – and still attack us today.”

Here it is:

“On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were about five hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic.

All of a sudden the curtains parted, and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that “All Business” look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. It was from Delta’s main office in Atlanta and simply read, “All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.”

No one said a word about what this could mean. We knew it was a serious situation and we needed to find terra firma quickly. The captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland.

He requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval was granted immediately –  no questions asked. We found out later, of course, why there was no hesitation in approving our request.

While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in about the hijackings.

We decided to LIE to the passengers while we were still in the air. We told them the plane had a simple instrument problem and that we needed to land at the nearest airport in Gander, Newfoundland, to have it checked out.

We promised to give more information after landing in Gander. There was much grumbling among the passengers, but that’s nothing new! Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander. Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM!…that’s 11:00 AM EST.

Gander Airport on 9/11

There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their way to the U.S.

After we parked on the ramp, the captain made the following announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have. The reality is that we are here for another reason.” Then he went on to explain the little bit we knew about the situation in the U.S. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The captain informed passengers that Ground Control in Gander told us to stay put.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation, and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the air crafts. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane. In the next hour or so more planes landed, and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were U.S. commercial jets.

Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes were flown into the World Trade Centre in New York and into the Pentagon in D.C. People were trying to use their cell phones but were unable to connect due to a
different cell system in Canada. Some did get through but were only able to get to the Canadian operator who would tell them that the lines to the U.S. were either blocked or jammed.

Sometime in the evening the news filtered to us that the World Trade Centre buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm. We had only to look out the window at the 52 other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in this predicament.

We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time. At 6 P.M., Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would be 11 am the next morning. Passengers were not happy, but they simply resigned themselves to this news without much noise and started to prepare themselves to spend the night on the airplane.

Gander had promised us medical attention, if needed, water, and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word. Fortunately, we had no medical situations to worry about. We did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of her. The night passed without incident despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.

Every available space in Gander was made available for the unexpected guests.

After that, we (the crew) were separated from the passengers and were taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers were going. We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander! We were told to just relax at the hotel, and we would be contacted when the U.S. airports opened again, but not to expect that call for a while.

We found out the total scope of the terror back home only after getting to our hotel and turning on the TV, 24 hours after it all started.

Meanwhile, we had lots of time on our hands and found that the people of Gander were extremely friendly. They started calling us the “plane people.” We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander, and ended up having a pretty good time.

Two days later, we got that call and were taken back to the Gander airport. Back on the plane, we were reunited with the passengers and found out what they had been doing for the past two days. What we found out was incredible.

Gander and all the surrounding communities (within about a 75 Kilometer radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.

ALL the high school students were required to volunteer their time to  take care of the “guests.” Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewis Porte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up 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.

Remember that young pregnant lady? She was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour Urgent Care facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration.

Phone calls and e-mails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered “Excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went for hikes in 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. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.

Passengers were crying while telling us these stories. Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated everything beautifully.

It was absolutely incredible.

When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was mind-boggling.

Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. And then a very unusual thing happened.

One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA 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 continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewis Porte.

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 college scholarships for the high school students of Lewis Porte.

He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!

The gentleman, a MD from Virginia , promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well.

As I write this account, the trust fund is at more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in their college education.

I just wanted to share this story because we need good stories right now. It gives me a little bit of hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them.

It reminds me how much good there is in the world.”

In spite of all the rotten things we see going on in today’s world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good people out there and when things get bad, they will come forward.

It makes me proud to be a Canadian-born naturalized U.S. citizen.


How To Govern Wisely: On a positive local note, earlier this week the Nassau County Commission voted unanimously to utilize the increase in state revenue to lower the tax millage rate 1.4% for all county property owners. The County Commission is an example of smart governance, listening to the people it serves and meeting their needs.

The county has occasional hiccoughs. The Rayonier lawsuit involving the county and County Attorney Mike Mullen is one such issue. I have no doubt it will be resolved without any undue brouhaha. Someone will win and someone will lose, hopefully not the tax payers.


Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch: In Fernandina Beach, self-proclaimed city spokesperson Commissioner Chip Ross is sending emails helter-skelter telling city critics to congratulate the city on the wretched job he, his fellow commissioners and City Manager Dale Martin did mismanaging the entire FEMA marina episode.

If it had been handled properly, the city would have been reimbursed years ago like other cities and would not have had to go through the years of hassle, legal fees, alleged lost documents, finger pointing, financing, expensive consulting fees, lack of insurance, etc.

Naturally the only folks enthusiastically congratulating the city “For a job not well done” are the two sycophants that run the online Observer city newsletter – Suanne Thamm and Susan Steger. Ms. Thamm, who has the credibility of Bagdad Bob, penned an article in that sad publication headlined “The case of ‘the lost FEMA document’ is solved”. Brenda Starr or Lois Lane she ain’t  although she and Steger are just as cartoonish.

There is no better proof that the online Fernandina Observer is nothing more than a newsletter for the City of Fernandina Beach than a piece it ran Tuesday, September 7 headlined: “On the job training for city employee”. A photo caption of two city water meter readers explained how one was teaching a newly hired guy how to do his job. The caption contained phrases such as, “Welcome to the team” and “happy to have you”. I’ve read church bulletins and PTA newsletters with more insightful and interesting material than what the duo of Stegar and Thamm throw together in this total waste of time. Why does Ms. Thamm even attend the City Commission meetings? She certainly doesn’t report on anything of any interest to the folks that pay the taxes hereabouts. Her “reporting” is all ego massages for city employees, City Manager Dale Martin and a City Commission that refuses to challenge Martin no matter what he does or says.

But back to the “lost document” tall tale. How could a document be lost in this digital age? “Big Spender” Martin has used the “lost document” as an excuse the past four years and now says it doesn’t matter. And why wasn’t the bidder/contractor Mr. Bellingham pushed to provide this crime scene evidence? Martin publicly said Bellingham had it and that he saw it and then he lost it.

Now Martin and his sidekick Ross want us to congratulate them for finding a lost document they now say they didn’t need anyway; spending millions on marina replacement and enhancements before money was in the bank; spending $50-60 thousand to pay a consultant to make a plea to FEMA to give them something – anything; saddling the tax payers with $15 million in debt; poor marina maintenance that led to massive damage; almost five years to get gas pumping at the marina resulting in enormous amounts of lost revenue; and totally misleading the public with contradictory and muddled excuses throughout the process. The only excuse they didn’t use at the time was “The dog ate it” but now gleefully demand that their critics “Eat crow”. Martin and his acolytes are acting like they’re auditioning for jobs to put a positive spin on Joe Biden’s surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Hey guys, have you forgotten about Brett’s Restaurant’ s imminent collapse into the harbor, a mess you ignored and was exacerbated by poor maintenance and the hurricane? When it sinks will there be a parade?

That flushing noise you hear is Martin’s, Ross’s, the City Commission’s, Thamm’s and Steger’s credibility going down the toilet.

It also appears that City Manager Martin has conceded that blow hard Commissioner Ross is indeed the city’s official spokesperson, because the only announcements I ever receive about issues such as this come from Ross, not Martin or any other city bureaucrat.

  • Comment (9)
  • HAHA Goood morning Dave! Tell us how you really feel…

    I had read that 9-11 article previously, it really is a great story, thanks again.

  • The article about Delta 15 brought tears to my eyes! Indeed, we need and deserve more news about human goodness. This is the kind of news our papers should be reporting! Thank you David for sharing this story when many Americans wish to feel hope.

  • Before I read your article I was just about to tell you about this book. Robert had a friend who lived in New Foundland at that time and he told us about the locals just putting everyone up.

  • Dave, last Monday Tish and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville PA, about 3 hours West of DC.

    We have been to many memorials of different events, but this one was so special – the heroic first response by American warriors in the fight against Islamic Terrorists.

    It was stark in the vivid narrative of the story we know all too well.

    But there were many added details that the U. S. Park Service added, such as the little-known gate agent who would not let pre-Murderer #5 onto Flight 93 because of many suspicious factors. The airport police enforced that denial, and as a result, 93 took off with only 4 Terrorists onboard, not 5.

    That resulted in 3 Terrorists in the cockpit but only 1 in the cabin. That one stayed forward, guarding the door to the cockpit. That allowed the 33 passengers and 7 flight attendants to vote (100% according to one passenger talking on a sky phone to an operator) to prepare and carry out their attack on the Terrorists in the cockpit after sending #4 to his 77

    The cockpit voice recorder documented the three remaining Terrorists seeing the door being breached inches at a time. One said to the other two “Is it time to end this?”

    A minute later traveling at 563 mph, the 757 rolled over on its back and hit a farmer’s field at a 40 degree angle. At that speed, if the aircraft had stayed on course another 12 seconds, it would have crashed into Shanksville Middle and High School, already in session. Many hundred children and staff could have been killed, but were not.

    Those details, plus seeing the unchanged field where debris in tiny pieces had landed far from the impact crater, left us shaken. The Boulder placed atop the impact site sharpened the view, and the 40 granite slabs after that, each displaying the name of one U.S. fighter, was almost like a shrine, more than a memorial. Passengers were individuals; including 20-year old children and a 79-year old grandmother. Six of the 40 had some military training but all became hardened commando fighters in an hour.

    There were flowers, letters with wedding pictures from still grieving daughters, grandchildren’s graduation photos, and unit mementos from many U.S. and foreign military unit members – at the memorial and the museum.

    I left a shirt from my unit – the 100th Div US Army. It parachuted into Germany in WW2 before I was a member, bringing a degree of justice and retribution from the sky, like the Terrorists aimed to do, and the Flight 93 passengers and crew successfully accomplished.

    This memorial is a “must see” in my bucket list.

  • Thanks, Dave, from one proud Canucklehead to another. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. Landed at BWI from Detroit that morning at 8:30 AM and drove home that evening. Keep up the good work.

  • Dave, great piece about Gander, it was truly an example of kindness, cooperation and the goodness of people, especially in face of the horror and evil of some other people. I wish you had just left this blog at that, as sometimes less is more, and you detracted from the feeling and spirit of the beginning of your blog. For now, let’s focus on September 11th, and wipe tears away and celebrate the goodness of the human spirit from our neighbors to the north, and the greatness of our wonderful nation, state, county AND city. We have plenty of time to get back to rancor and divisiveness later.

  • Dave, I believe the Delta flight attendant wanted to remain anonymous as the story was not about her or the Delta crew but the generous people of Gander and the surrounding region who showed such great hospitality and kindness. Thanks for retelling the story.
    We all have our memories of that day. I was on a Delta flight from Atlanta destined to Minneapolis MN that Tuesday morning with a colleague having celebrated my 50th birthday with the family the previous day. With our frequent travels we were both fortunate to be upgraded to first class and were seated on aisle seats across from each other. Mid-flight I sensed something was amiss as I noticed the plane begin to circle and we were still at least an hour away from MSP. I noticed the flight attendants began walking the aisles and looking closely at passengers. Finally, the captain came on and simply announced that all planes had been ordered by the FAA to land at the closest airport. He indicated that he had requested to be allowed to continue to MSP but was denied and we would be landing in Des Moines Iowa. I immediately turned to my colleague and said my first thought – “terrorists”. My suspicion was validated when one of the flight attendants rolled two of the food/beverage carts in front of the cockpit door. As we descended people’s cell phones began to work and tell the story of the two planes crashing in the World Trade Center. Fortunately we had carry-on luggage so when we landed we grabbed our bags and rushed into the terminal to get a rental car. Meanwhile I am trying to get a call through to my wife to let her know I was safe and after some time that seemed like hours but probably was 10 minutes, was able to get the call through. We decided to drive up to Minneapolis and stayed glued to the radio reports coming in describing the collapse of the towers and the third plane crashing into the Pentagon. What a terrible day with so many innocent deaths.

  • Great story on the Delta Flight
    15 adventure.Never knew of this
    prior to your Blog.Makes one
    wish this kind of spirit was in
    place in America.We really could
    use more of such behavior from
    our politicians which remind me
    of a bunch of spoiled school kids.

  • Dave, a friend of mine who lived in Newfoundland recommended that book to me some years ago.

    The generosity and decency highlighted in that story stand in sharp contrast to the bloody-minded savagery that marred that clear, sunny Tuesday morning.


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