The human face of 9/11

2011-09-04 22:47
Gander - To hear something nice about 9/11, talk to "the plane people", the passengers who wound up on the island of Newfoundland that day because US airspace had been shut down.

Talk to Laura Louie about the overwhelming kindness she and her two small daughters experienced in this distant corner of Canada, briefly transformed by a twist of history into an international aviation hub.

"We were taken care of," she remembers.

"For everyone else, 9/11 has a heavy connotation, but for me it was when I was reminded what humanity is."

Or listen to Monica Burke, a 44-year-old emergency dispatcher from Seattle: "Our whole world was in chaos and we didn't even know where we were except that we were in some weird time zone in Canada.

"I didn't know when I was getting home, but these people basically put their lives on hold. Their kids couldn't go to school because we were using the schools as shelters.

"Bus drivers came off strike to drive us. Pharmacists came to the shelters and said 'What do you need?' and nobody asked for money. It's pretty incredible that they were able to respond like that, especially with short notice."

Ten years later, that huge, comforting hug of Gander, Newfoundland still warms the memories of the 6 600 passengers who descended without warning on the town of 10 000.

Friendships

Many of them have made deep friendships with the islanders who cared for them and some will travel here for the 10th anniversary commemorations.

Across a distance of 5 000km from the Pacific to Atlantic, Monica Burke has stayed in regular phone and e-mail contact with Beulah Cooper, the woman who opened her home to her as the horror of 9/11 sank in. She visited her on the first anniversary and is returning for the 10th.

Cooper, now 70, keeps a large collection of thank you letters from the many people she helped in different ways.

Among those she comforted are Dennis and Hannah O'Rourke, an elderly couple whose New York firefighter son, Kevin, who went missing at the World Trade Centre and died in the rubble.

The O'Rourkes have remained friends with Cooper and have been back to Gander, whose people Hannah O'Rourke feels eternally indebted to.

"They are so full of love and kindness and they can't do enough for you.

"I'll never forget it. Beulah was a mother figure."

Of the hundreds of flights blocked that day, more than 200 were diverted to Canada, with no warning, recalls David Collenette, transport minister.

Pick up pieces

"They shut down US airspace, period, and we had to pick up the pieces.

"I don't fault them for that...it was an absolute tragedy," said Collenette.

"There was no request.

"We were informed that the United States had closed its airspace to all incoming traffic.

"All planes were grounded in the United States and they said that any planes flying into the US airspace would be shot down.

"Frankly it was as brutal as that."

He said that despite intelligence reports about more airborne terrorists possibly approaching, he had to let the aircraft in, or else they might attempt unauthorised landings or crash into the Atlantic.

"As it was, we landed 33 000 people in a matter of a few hours."

Norman Mineta, then US transportation secretary, had a different recollection of the day.

"After I closed US airspace I realised that we've got these planes coming in from Europe and Asia and I then called David and I said 'Hey David, we need your help,'" Mineta said, asking Collenete if Canada could take the incoming planes.

'We'll take them all'


"He put me on hold and within a minute or so he said, 'We'll take them all,'" Mineta said.

Mineta said he was surprised that Collenette didn't mention their conversation, but added that Canada "did a great service" for the US that day.

The Canadians shunted the traffic away from Toronto and Montreal to the eastern seaboard, and obscure, little used Gander got to relive its glory days as a stopover point for trans-Atlantic aviation before long-distance flights became possible.

Built in 1938 in anticipation of the coming world war, it had the world's longest runway, and on 9/11 it was the second busiest, taking in 38 flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia's 47.

Flight crews quickly filled Gander's hotels, so passengers were taken to schools, fire stations, church halls and the Canadian military flew in 5 000 cots.

Stores donated blankets, coffee machines and grills. Unable to retrieve their luggage, passengers became dependent on the kindness of strangers and it came in the shape of clothes, showers, toys, banks of phones to call home free of charge and a giant walk-in fridge full of donated food.

Once all the planes had landed or turned back to Europe, Gander's air traffic controllers switched to cooking meals in the building nonstop for three days.

A piece of a steel beam from the former World Trade Centre, donated by the Bethpage volunteer fire department on Long Island, will be unveiled in Gander on September 11.



- AP
Read more on:    us  |  canada  |  9/11
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
5 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Movies
Traffic & Train Alerts
Traffic
Cape Town 09:37 AM
Road name: N2 Inbound

ROADWORKS - one lane closed at Main Road

Cape Town 06:03 AM
Road name: MetroRail

Train services between Nyanga/Chris Hani (Khayelitsha) and Nyanga/Kapteinsklip remain SUSPENDED - all stations on these sections are CLOSED

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Deal of the Week!

Get bestselling John Green novels now just R99 each! Hurry and get yours while stocks last. Shop here.

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Jan 21 - Feb 18
Jan 21 - Feb 18

You may be inspired to do things that expand your mind in a big way today. You have a need to explore and a need to please....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.