This week the world remembered the 9-11 tragedy. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news? On September 11th, 2001 I was getting ready to fly from Toronto to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a conference. I was in the office early tidying up some odds and ends when one of the staff came by and said that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. We never really thought much of it until we saw video then we as everyone else began to understand we were watching history in the making.
Now skip ahead to two years ago. I performed the wedding of a friend of a friend and both the bride and groom were from Newfoundland, my home province. As my wife and I sat around the table at the reception I once again realized how small the world was. One lady worked for West Jet and one of my classmates had been their president. Another man had spent a couple of years in my hometown of Corner Brook and we realized he was 2 grades ahead of me in the same school. A younger man asked me who my dad was and it turned out my dad had given him his first job. Truly amazing but there was more to come.
It turned out that 3 of the men at the table were Air Traffic Controllers and had worked at Gander International Airport on 9-11. Then the stories started to happen. Let me give you the conversation in bullet points.
- It was a normal day as they watched their monitors and surveyed air traffic over the Atlantic and into North America.
- Then word came about the towers and that the U.S. had closed its air space and the planes turned around and started heading for Canada.
- Gander landed so many planes that they were parked up against the Traffic Tower.
- There was fear that anyone of the planes could have a bomb on it.
- Some planes were on the tarmac for 30 hours because each plane had to go through customs.
- Workers would pull up to the plane, take orders for medicine go to the pharmacy and then return with medicine and food for the passengers.
- The local ice rink became a refrigerator for perishable items being shipped into town to help feed the passengers.
- As planes were cleared by customs, local people would pull up and just take people home with them for a shower, food and a bed to sleep in. Only later wondering if they entertained a terrorist.
- Getting people home was a challenge at times. Orthodox Jews would not fly on Saturday and the plane for Ireland was missing passengers because they were in the bar drinking. (I’m not making this up:)
- Needless to say the amount of sleep these men got during those days was minimal at best.
There were 17 locations where planes headed for the U.S. landed in Canada, with each having their own unique stories. For all the jokes we make about ourselves and the jokes people make about us I am proud of my province and her people. On 9-11 we showed the world what we were made of and that was not joke.
Here is a link to a video about Gander that a friend of mine Jarrett (a transplanted American now living in Oshawa) posted on his blog this week.