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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Not your usual 9-11 story

     I received this story last week and thought I would pass it on today the 11th anniversary of 9-11.  I checked it out on and it is a true story told by one of the passengers on a flight from Europe on that fateful day.  It is a little long but worth the read.

"On the morning of Tuesday,  September 11, we were about 5 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. 

“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 Center in New York  and into the Pentagon in DC. 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 Center 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 PM, 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. 

“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  Lewisporte, 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 li ke 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 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 college  scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte.  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  college education.

From David Greisman at the Columbia Association:

Columbia Art Center’s Empty Bowls fundraiser returns to help Howard County residents in need
Empty bowls will help lead to full plates — and financial assistance and other help for Howard County residents in need.
Columbia Association’s (CA) Columbia Art Center will again be hosting its “Empty Bowls” fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. The Art Center is located at 6100 Foreland Garth in the Long Reach Village Center.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Art Center or over the telephone. Guests receive their pick of one of 300 beautiful, one-of-a-kind handmade bowls made by Art Center students and faculty, and will also be entertained by live music, a studio demonstration, a silent art auction, raffles and light fare.
The proceeds of the event will be donated to FISH of Howard County Inc. For more than three decades, the agency has provided food, financial assistance, referral information and other aid to county residents with legitimate emergency needs, according to its website.
This is the fourth Empty Bowls event hosted at the Columbia Art Center. The first was held in 2008.
“We believe it is important to do our part in giving back to the community in whatever ways we can,” said Liz Henzey, director of the Columbia Art Center. “There is something really amazing about artists and community members coming together for a wonderful cause and sharing their talents and creativity to impact change.”
According to the FISH of Howard County website, the agency received more than 2,250 requests for assistance in a recent 12-month period.
“Those 2,000-plus calls translated into food supplies for approximately 29,000 nutritionally balanced meals delivered to the homes of hungry families, more than $40,000 in assistance for evictions, utility turnoffs or other crisis needs, and nearly $39,000 for prescription assistance,” the website said.
        For more information, contact the Columbia Art Center at 410-730-0075.

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