The Kindness of Some Canadians
Delta 15 Flight
This is a longer story than normal, but it is worth reading. It will touch your heart.
A plane flying to US on Sept 11, but diverted to Canada -
Another great story of pulling together for our fellow world citizens......
If you wondered about all those flights that were in the middle of the great
blue Atlantic Ocean on the morning of September 11th, here is an
up-close-and-personal story written by a Delta Airlines flight attendant en
route from Frankfurt to Atlanta. This was the first accounting that I had
read of one of the diverted flights to Canada. I found it both compelling
and inspiring. And the question the writer poses at the end is a good one:
We were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt flying over the North Atlantic and I
was in my crew rest seat taking my scheduled rest break. All of a sudden the
curtains parted violently and I was told to go to the cockpit, right now, to
see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had one of
those "All Business" looks on their faces. The captain handed me a printed
message. I quickly read the message and realized the importance of it.
The message was from Atlanta, addressed to our flight, and simply said, "All
airways over the Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest
airport, advise your destination."
Now, when a dispatcher tells you to land immediately without suggesting which
airport, one can assume that the dispatcher has reluctantly given up control
of the flight to the captain. We knew it was a serious situation and we
needed to find terra firma quickly. It was quickly decided that the nearest
airport was 400 miles away, behind our right shoulder, in Gander, on the
island of New Foundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic
controller and a right turn, directly to Gander, was approved immediately.
We found out later why there was no hesitation by the Canadian controller
approving our request. We, the in-flight crew, were told to get the airplane
ready for an immediate landing. While this was going on another message
arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York
We briefed the in-flight crew about going to Gander and we went about our
business 'closing down' the airplane for a landing. A few minutes later I
went back to the cockpit to find out that some airplanes had been hijacked
and were being flown into buildings all over the US. We decided to make an
announcement and LIE to the passengers for the time being. We told them that
an instrument problem had arisen on the airplane and that we needed to land
at Gander to have it checked. We promised to give more information after
landing in Gander. There were many unhappy passengers but that is par for
We landed in Gander about 40 minutes after the start of this episode.
There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the
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. But the reality is that we are
here for a good reason." Then he went on to explain the little bit we knew
about the situation in the US. There were loud gasps and stares of
disbelief. Local time at Gander was 12:30 p.m. (11:00 a.m. EST) Gander
control told us to stay put. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft.
No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts. Only a car from
the airport police would come around once in a while, look us over and go on
to the next airplane. In the next hour or so all the airways over the North
Atlantic were vacated and Gander alone ended up with 53 airplanes from all
over the world, out of which 27 were flying US flags. We were told that each
and every plane was to be off loaded, one at a time, with the foreign
carriers given the priority. We were No.14 in the US category. We were
further told that we would be given a tentative time to deplane at 6 p.m.
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 US were either blocked or
jammed and to try again. Some time late 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. Now the passengers were totally
bewildered and emotionally exhausted but stayed calm as we kept reminding
them to look around to see that we were not the only ones in this predicament.
There were 52 other planes with people on them in the same situation.
We also told them that the Canadian Government was in charge and we were at
their mercy. True to their word, at 6 p.m., Gander airport told us that our
turn to deplane would come at 11 a.m., the next morning. That took the last
wind out of the passengers and they simply resigned and accepted this news
without much noise and really started to get into a mode of spending the
night on the airplane.
Gander had promised us any and all medical attention if needed; medicine,
water, and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word.
Fortunately we had no medical situation during the night. We did have a
young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of
her. The night passed without any further complications on our airplane
despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. About 10:30 on the morning
12th we were told to get ready to leave the aircraft.
A convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway
was hooked up and the passengers were taken to the terminal for "processing".
We, the crew, were taken to the same terminal but were told to go to a
different section, where we were processed through Immigration and customs
and then had to register with the Red Cross. After that we were isolated
from our passengers and were taken in a caravan of vans to a very small hotel
in the town of Gander. We had no idea where our passengers were going.
The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. Red Cross told us that
they were going to process about 10,500 passengers from all the airplanes
that were forced into Gander. We were told to just relax at the hotel and
wait for a call to go back to the airport, 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 enjoyed ourselves going around town discovering things and
enjoying the hospitality. The people were so friendly and they just knew
that we were the "Plane People". We all had a great time until we got that
call, 2 days later, on the 14th at 7 a.m. We made it to the airport by
8:30 a.m. and left for Atlanta at 12:30 p.m. arriving in Atlanta at about
4:30 p.m.. (Gander is 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of EST, yes!, 1 hour and
But that's not what I wanted to tell you. What passengers told us was so
uplifting and incredible and the timing couldn't have been better. We found
out that Gander and the surrounding small communities, within a 75 Kilometer
radius, had closed all the high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other
large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to a mass
lodging area. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and
pillows set up. ALL the high school students HAD to volunteer taking care of
Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers
from Gander. There they were put 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 given no choice and 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 type facility. There were
DDS on call and they had both male and female nurses available and stayed
with the crowd for the duration. Phone calls and emails to US and Europe
were available for everyone once a day. During the days the passengers were
given a choice of "Excursion" trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the
lakes and harbors. Some went to see 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 school for those who elected to stay put.
Others were driven to the eatery of their choice and fed. They were given
tokens to go to the local Laundromat to wash their clothes, since their
luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words every single need was met
for those unfortunate travelers. Passengers were crying while telling us
these stories. After all that, they were delivered to the airport right on
time and without a single one missing or late. All because the local Red
Cross had all the information about the goings on back at Gander and knew
which group needed to leave for the airport at what time. Absolutely
When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise.
Everybody knew everybody else by their name. They were swapping stories of
their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time. It was mind-
boggling. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a party flight. We simply
stayed out of their way. The passengers had totally bonded and they were
calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses,
and email addresses.
And then a strange thing happened. One of our business class passengers
approached me and asked if he could speak over the PA to his fellow
passengers. We never, never, allow that. But something told me to get out
of his way. I said "of course". The gentleman 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 further stated that he would like to do something in return
for the good folks of the town 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 a scholarship for high school student(s)
of Lewisporte to help them go to college. 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, it totaled to $14.5K or about $20K Canadian. The
gentleman who started all this turned out to be an MD from Virginia. He
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.
Why, all of this? Just because some people in far away places were kind to
some strangers, who happened to literally drop in among them? WHY NOT?
Thanks Judith Peters
The Pastors Net
A service of MI Communication