The Day the World Came to Town

Twenty years ago, on Tuesday, 11 September 2001, thousands of people were stranded when 38 planes were forced to land at Gander, Newfoundland. The locals rose to the challenge.

Jim Defede Published Sep 18, 2021 14:39:14 IST
2021-09-18T14:39:14+05:30
2021-09-18T14:39:14+05:30
From the book the Day the World Came to Town Illustrationby R. Fresson

Halfway between Frankfurt and New YorkCity, Captain Reinhard Knoth switched his plane's radio to a frequency shared by all pilots. He was listening to the casual banter between planes when a pilot for KLM broke in.“There’s something happening in New York,” the captain declared excitedly. “An accident.”

A pilot for Lufthansa for 30 years, Knoth had made this transatlantic run many times. He tuned his radio to the BBC, which was broadcasting fromNew York. The announcer reported an explosion at the World Trade Center, possibly caused by an airplane cras-hing into the North Tower.

He looked over at his co-pilot and flight engineer to make sure they had heard this as well. As they talked, the BBC broadcast caught their attention again. “… another explosion …a second plane has hit the WorldTrade Center!

”It was 9:03 a.m. in New York. Knothbounced from one radio frequency to another, scavenging bits of information. One fact was certain: Even with a gun to his head, no airline pilot would crash his plane into the Trade Center.

Knoth knew someone else must have been flying those planes. By 9:15 a.m., all airports in the New York City area had been shut down. Knoth sent an urgent message to Lufthansa asking for guidance. Should he turn around? He wondered about the 355 passengers aboard his plane, LufthansaFlight 400. Were any of them a threat? Knoth glanced behind him to the cockpit door. It wasn’t very sturdy. It wasn't even locked. When Knoth didn’t hear back from the airline, he made the decision to continue west. He contacted Air-Traffic Control (ATC) in Gander, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland, for clearance to fly on to Toronto, where Lufthansa had a base of operations.“Request denied,” the controller in Gander said bluntly.

“You have to land now.”The ATC, a bunker-like building located less than a mile from Gander InternationalAirport, keeps track of all flights between Europe and NorthAmerica. About 40 controllers help nearly a thousand flights a day get from one point to another as smoothly as possible.

When the call came in from Washington, D.C., that all air-space in the United States had been closed, there were about300 planes in their airspace. Controllers started dividing them up among a handful of airports as far away as Montreal and even Toronto.

The airport in Gander was key. Initially built in the mid-1930s as a military base shared by the U.S., England and Canada, thanks to its location in the northwest Atlantic it played a crucial role in World War II as a refueling stop for fighters and heavy bombers on their way to Europe. Later, most overseas commercial flights out of the United States and Canada refueled inGander. It became known as the biggest gas station in the world.

The introduction in 1970 of the Boeing 747, with its increased fuel capacity and longer flying times, guaranteed Gander’s demise as a commercial airline hub. But it remained a frequent stopover point for private and corporate jets, a few charter outfits and the American military.

Because it has an unusually long main runway, it was the ideal place to handle a sky full of jumbo jets.

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At Gander’s town hall employees gathered around a television gazed in horror as local stations interrupted their programming for bulletins out of New York. Meanwhile, Mayor Claude Elliott saw the news on television when he dropped into a donut shop. He watched for a few minutes, then went home to follow the coverage on CNN.

Before long he received a phone call from the town manager. U.S. airspace was closed and a lot of planes were being diverted to Canada. It looked like Gander was going to receive as many as 50.

“What about the passengers?”Elliott asked. For now, he was told, the plan was to hold all of the passengers on board until U.S. airspace opened up again—probably for only a few hours.

This was going to take more than a few hours to sort out, Elliott thought. Even if they never got off the plane, just having to feed thousands of people would be a tremendous undertaking for Gander, population about 10,000.

Elliott didn’t want to get caught flat-footed. The town opened its emergency operations centre and placed local groups on alert.

Federal and local officials knew that an onslaught was about to hit them.

The first diverted plane landed in Gander at a little before 11 a.m.local time. Virgin Air Flight 75was on its way from Manchester, England, to Orlando, Florida. Aboard were337 passengers, mostly families on their way to Disney World. The plane taxied to the terminal and stopped.A small contingent of police took up points around the plane as passengers stared out the windows.

The succession of jet engines roaring over town caused people to come out of their homes and businesses to watch. Airport officials usedGander’s second runway as a parking lot, stacking more than three dozen planes nose to tail.

Pilots were on their own as to what they would tell their passengers. Aboard Lufthansa Flight 400, Knoth announced only that problems in the U.S. were forcing them to land in Canada.

Passenger Werner Baldessarini, the chairman of Hugo Boss, wondered what type of problems. More important, he wanted to know when they would be leaving. He was flying to New York for Fashion Week. It would be one of his last shows before he retired and he wanted to make it a success.

Once on the ground, Knoth explained to his passengers the situation in New York and Washington. He also noted they’d just received word of a fourth plane having crashed in Pennsylvania. Thousands were feared dead.

Baldessarini felt ashamed for worrying about his fashion show. On Continental Flight 23 from Dublin to Newark, New Jersey, passengers gasped when the captain announced that two planes had struck the World Trade Center and a third had hit the Pentagon. George Vitale’s mind immediately went to his sister Patty, who worked in the South Tower. She’d lost her husband about a year ago, and now she might be dead as well. He thought about his 14-year-old nephew, Patrick. Vitale was the boy's guardian. He wondered if he was capable of raising a teenager.

Vitale, 43, a senior investigator with the New York State police, had flown to Ireland to make security arrangements for the governor’s upcoming visit, but it had been cancelled, so he’d been told to come home.

After the plane landed in Gander,Vitale continued to receive only snippets of information, mostly from brief telephone calls passengers were making to family members. Rumors began circulating that both towers had collapsed. Worse, there were scores of firefighters and police officers in the buildings at the time. Now he had a new worry. His best friend, Anthony DeRubbio, was a New York City firefighter.

When he was able to get a call through to the governor’s residence in Albany, New York, everything was chaotic. Vitale could tell by the man's voice that he was scared, which made Vitale more anxious. He felt guilty that he wasn’t in New York to help.

Aboard Aer Lingus Flight 105 from Dublin to New York, Hannah and Dennis O’Rourke listened intently as the pilot explained the situation. Hannah’s thoughts went to her son Kevin, a New York City firefighter for18 years and a member of one of the department’s elite fire rescue teams.

“Maybe he wasn’t working today,” she told Dennis, who nodded softly. She closed her eyes and prayed.

After landing, a man offered Hannah his phone so she could call her family. Kevin was working, her daughter, Patricia, told her. No one had heard from him. “But I’m sure he's fine,” she added. Kevin had made it through some close calls in the past. His captain would scold him about the risks he took, but Kevin didn’t know how to do the job any other way.

whatsapp-image-2021-09-13-at-21_091321094347.jpegIn the hours after the 11 September attacks, 38 flights were forced to land at Gander International Airport

By mid-afternoon, word had officially arrived: U.S. airspace was going to remain closed for the foreseeable future. By then town leaders were already establishing shelters in churches, fraternal organizations and schools. Mayors from smaller surrounding towns offered their own facilities for passengers. The Salvation Army had a summer camp that could hold hundreds. The officers’ club on the air force base was quickly converted into a shelter.

One place passengers couldn’t stay was in the town’s 550 hotel rooms, which were reserved for pilots and flight attendants, who are required to have a certain amount of rest before they fly.

Excluding the crews, there were6,132 passengers on board the 38 flights. Passengers were moved off planes one plane at a time. Luggagestayed on the planes. After a security check and customs and immigration processing, they were turned over to the Canadian Red Cross, which registered every passenger and kept track of which shelter they were assigned to. To keep passengers moving, television sets were turned off and ‘Out of Order’signs posted on pay phones.

School bus drivers, in the midst of a nasty strike, laid down their picket signs and worked around the clock carrying passengers to shelters.

The Salvation Army gathered sup-plies. Folks were asked to donate food, spare bedding, old clothes—anything the passengers might need. At the town's community centre, a long line of cars waited to bring sheets and blankets and pillows from people’s homes. Local stores donated thousands of dollars' worth of items, including toiletries and a special shipment of 4,000 toothbrushes.

Ten hours after landing, the passengers and crew of Lufthansa Flight400 were allowed to leave the aircraft.

When the passengers arrived at the local high school at midnight, volunteers handed out toiletries and bedding and made sure everyone knew there was food and water available. Werner Baldessarini couldn’t believe how many people were waiting to greet them.

The school was still waiting for cots to arrive, so the Hugo Boss chairman took a blanket and pillow and staked out a small corner of the gym floor, curled up in his cashmere suit and fell asleep.

After several hours, George Vitale, still aboard Continental Flight 23, received word that his sister had left the area when the first plane hit the south tower. He was relieved when, at 2 a.m., the pilot announced it was their turn to go through Canadian customs.

Vitale and the other passengers were sent by bus 24 km to Appleton, a beautiful town of almost 600 people on the Gander River. Arriving at the Appleton Community Centre, the first thing he noticed was the reassuring smell of coffee; the second was the television. Even though he knew by now that the towers had been destroyed, he was still paralyzed by the pictures. People gathered around, horrified, many crying. The TV remained on all night, flickering like a candle at the far end of the room.It was nearing 4 a.m. when passengers on Aer Lingus Flight 105 were bused to the Royal Canadian LegionHall. Despite the hour, volunteers were waiting to serve hot soup and sandwiches. Most passengers, though, simply wanted a blanket, a pillow and a place to lie down.

Hannah O’Rourke waited in line touse the legion’s phone. Despite the hour, she called Kevin’s house. His wife, Maryann, answered. The news wasn't good.

Kevin’s captain had called earlier.“He said Kevin is missing with his company,” Maryann said, “and they are still hopeful of finding them alive.

“We’re going to pray everything is allright,” Hannah said firmly. She handed the phone to her husband, Den-nis. Maryann repeated the news and Dennis broke down in tears.

Wednesday

George Vitale laced up his running shoes. He had packed everything in a carry-on. Running had long been a peaceful time away from the stress of his job.

Back home, he would set off from his Brooklyn apartment most days,at one point running towards a Manhattan skyline with the Twin Towers acting almost like a beacon. Until 1996, the governor’s Manhattan headquarters, where he worked in the security detail, were in the South Tower.

Now he wondered if he would have the strength to run toward a skyline missing its two towers.

When he first arrived in Appleton, he had phoned his family.

“How’s Anthony?” he asked his brother, Dennis.

“He’s okay,” Dennis said without much excitement.Vitale was elated.“But David’s missing.”Anthony’s younger brother David, 38, had joined the fire department only three years ago. He had a wife and a 12-year-old daughter. Vitale remembered David as a funny kid and a good dad.

Following the river through Appleton, Vitale wanted to clear his mind. The harder he ran, the more distance he temporarily placed between himself and his grief.

After several kilometres he arrived back at the community centre. Since the centre didn’t have showers, a local couple took Vitale to their home just down the street, told him to help himself to anything in the refrigerator, invited him to use the phone and computer, showed him the TV remote and left.

Vitale was speechless. The couple had thought nothing of leaving a stranger in their home. It was an act of faith Vitale desperately needed—something to replace the pain he was feeling.

After catching a few hours’ sleep,Hannah O’Rourke walked four blocks from the Royal Canadian LegionHall to St. Joseph’s Parish. “Father, would you pray for our son?” she asked the priest.

After morning Mass, she called her daughter. She felt helpless being so far away. “We haven’t heard anything yet,” Patricia told her. “Don’t give up hope, ma. You know Kevin; he’ll find a way out.

”Several townspeople offered their homes to Hannah and Dennis. But they refused, terrified that if they moved out of the legion hall, someone trying to find them might not know where they were.

Sensing their need for distraction, folks were taking turns sitting with the anguished couple. Beulah Cooper, 60, felt a special affinity for the 66-year-old Hannah because her son was a volunteer firefighter in Gander. An unreserved woman, she loved telling a joke, and sitting alongside Hannah she’d fire away. Hannah would smile, sometimes even laugh, which encouraged Cooper to tell more.

Every business in Gander joined the relief effort. The Kentucky Fried chicken, Subway sandwich outlets and pizza joints sent carloads of food. Gander’s food co-op went to 24-hour service. The telephone company set up banks of telephones and computers. The cable television service made sure every shelter had cable TV. Pharmacists filled more than a thousand prescriptions in the first 24 hours, in each case calling the hometown doctor or pharmacist to get the details.

Eithne Smith, a teacher, was working in the office of Lake-wood Academy in Glenwood, sending messages by fax for passengers having trouble reaching loved ones by phone, when a woman walked in. “I’ve watched you all morning solve other people’s problems, and now I have one for you,” she said.

She explained that there was an Orthodox rabbi and a dozen or so kosher-observant Jews in the school. They had eaten very little since they had arrived because most of the food being served was non-kosher.

Newfoundland is 97 per cent Catholic and Protestant but Smith was ready for the challenge. She put the rabbi in touch with the owner of the company that provides meals to the regular flights in and out of Gander. He drove to Glenwood, located near Appleton, with a cartonful of kosher food.

“How did you know we were hungry?” asked Rabbi Leivi Sudak, when Smith told him food had arrived.

The many different cultures represented at the school was just staggering to Smith. There were people from 40 countries, from Sri Lanka to Australia. The hallways were filled with the sounds of different languages.

Twenty-four hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, there were still a handful of planes waiting to be processed. Despite the delay, the 116 passengers aboard Continental Flight5 from London to Houston were in good spirits. On Tuesday evening, the flight attendants had unlocked the liquor carts and let everyone pour their own drinks. The plane developed the vibe of a freewheeling United Nations cocktail party.

Deborah Farrar, a 28-year-old account executive for an IT firm returning from her first trip abroad, was awestruck by the different people she met. Two she befriended were Winnie House and Lana Etherington. Winnie, 26, born in Nigeria, the daughter of a village chieftain, was strikingly beautiful—tall and slender, with hair tied in long braids. She lived in Houston, as did Lana, who grew up in the former British colony of Rhodesia and held a law degree.

Wednesday morning, a bleary-eyed Deb and her friends finally got on the yellow school buses and were taken 48 km to Gambo, a town of 2,100 people, on the scenic Kittiwake coast.

It seemed as if the whole town had come to welcome them. There was a big pot of beef stew, sandwiches and tea. All told nearly 900 passengers had been brought to this remote town.

That evening, Deb and her friends found Gambo’s only bar, the TrailwayCabin Lounge, a simple building on a dirt lot. The place was jumping. For the duration of the plane-people’s stay, the pub would be open nearly 24hours a day.

Thursday

Werner Baldessarini found himself in a place he’d never been before, Walmart. As one would expect, the chairman dressed head to toe in Hugo Boss apparel. While the suit was holding up quite well, common decency demanded a change of underwear.

By Thursday Walmart’s shelves were starting to look a little bare, but he found the appropriate size and style, then paid at the checkout.

When Baldessarini returned to the school, he showered and changed. He immediately felt uncomfortable. The waistband, the material, the design—it was all wrong.

Luckily, help was on the way. A good friend had offered to send his personal jet to pick him up. As his staff coordinated these efforts, he mentioned the uncomfortable bind he was in—literally—regarding his underwear. The staff snapped into action.

The closest Hugo Boss outlet toGander was Byron’s, a men’s clothing store in St. John’s, about 200 miles away. The store’s owner, Byron Murphy, 39, couldn’t believe his ears when he got a call asking if he could send a store clerk to Gander with a package for Baldessarini. In Murphy’s world of fashion retail, Baldessarini was the equivalent of a movie star.

“I’ll go,” Murphy volunteered. He packed clothing, including briefs, as well as wine, cheese and bread suggested by the caller. Three hours later,an awestruck Murphy was leading Baldessarini from the school shelter to his car and the packages he’d brought with him. A bit embarrassed, Baldes-sarini told Murphy that while he was grateful for his efforts, he couldn’t accept the baskets of food and wine. His voice was filled with emotion when he described the efforts of everyone in town to aid the passengers, particularly the women, who seemed to be cooking around the clock. He didn’t want to risk offending these fine folks,he explained. “Take them back with you,” he told Murphy.

He did keep the underwear.

In the morning, when Murphylaid out the cheese and wine for his customers, he had quite a story to tell them. After two days of prodding, Beulah Cooper convinced Hannah to come to her house for a few hours away from the crowded legion hall. Dennis promised to stay by the phone at the hall. Cooper could tell Hannah was exhausted. She wasn’t sleeping and the pain of having her son missing was taking its toll on her. The two women sat in the quiet of the Cooper home, sipped coffee and relaxed.

Before driving back to the legion hall, Cooper gave her guest a quick tour of Gander. She considered every minute she kept Hannah’smind off Kevin a personal victory.

Her persistence was endearing. Hannah was moved that the other woman would care so much to make the effort.

The passengers were experiencingNewfoundland’s legendary hospitality. There was nothing they needed that local people weren’t prepared to provide. Their selflessness gave Denise Gray-Felder, a Rockefeller Foundation executive traveling on Continental Flight45 from Milan to New York, chills.

The first night in the PhiladelphiaTabernacle Pentecostal Church shelter in Lewisporte, about forty minutes from Gander, she had trouble sleeping. Around 3 a.m. she spotted several men from town, including pastor Russell Bartlett, sitting by the church entrance. Gray-Felder asked why they were still awake.

“We thought it was important to watch over you,” the pastor explained, “and make sure nothing happened to you while you slept.”

Friday

Every morning Knoth would walk to the high school where the passengers from his flight were staying. The first question every passenger asked him was always: “When are we leaving?” He wished he knew. All he could say to them was that they had to be ready to leave for the airport at a moment’s notice.

From an aviation viewpoint, the situation in the U.S. was constantly changing. Some airports were open, while others were closed. There were new threats and warnings on an hourly basis. On Thursday evening, Vitale and other passengers of Continental Flight 23 were taken to the airport, where they were told there had been a mistake. They camped out overnight in the ballroom of a nearby hotel. Finally, on Friday afternoon,Newark reopened and their plane was cleared to fly.

More passengers were preparing to leave. Hannah and Dennis discovered that their plane, Aer Lingus Flight 105, would be returning to Dublin Friday afternoon. Neither knew how to express how much their new friends at the legion hall meant to them during this horrendous time. When they arrived in Gander, it had been unbearable to be so far away from their family. Now it felt to them like they, in fact, had a family in Gander.

A corporate jet was scheduled to arrive later in the day Friday to pick up the Hugo Boss chairman. Early in the morning, however, Baldessarini cancelled it. It wasn’t that the 56-year-old enjoyed sleeping on army cots in a high school gym with several hundred people. But after two days of living with his fellow passengers, he felt an incredible bond with all of them, rivaled only by his attachment to the townspeople, whose compassion was so overwhelming. They took their visitors on driving tours of the countryside, to their homes. The passengers were treated like long-lost relatives.

He tried explaining to his assistants in Frankfurt that flying home while the others were left behind would have been an act of betrayal. However long it took, he was in this until the end.

The Continental Flight 5 gang decided to let loose with a final night at the Trailway Lounge in Gambo, probably their last night together. The pub was so full that people were spilling out the back door.

The most infamous of Newfoundland traditions is the ‘Screeching-In’ceremony, which allows a visitor to become an honorary local through a series of challenges, including drinking an unhealthy amount of a lowbrow rum known as Screech. In the days following 11 September, hundreds of passengers went through the ceremony.

When word reached the locals that night that Winnie was the daughter of an African chieftain, they knew they had to bestow their highest honour on her. Winnie had been drinking a fair amount of wine and was up for anything. Jim Lane, a volunteer firefighter dressed in the traditional yellow oilskin and sporting an unkempt phony white beard, asked her to re-peat her one line—“Deed we is, me old cock, an’ long may yer big jib draw”—for practice.

Winnie squealed with laughter.Lane warned her not to laugh when he asked her the official question.

“Are you ready, me dear?”Lane asked.“Yes,” Winnie said, trying to straighten herself up. Lane, falling into character, asked,“Is we Newfies?”Deed … Me cock …” Winnie said, bursting into fits of laughter. After two or three tries she came close enough for Lane to accept it. “Now kiss the cod,” he told her, holding a days-old five-pound fish to her face. Winnie shuddered. In unison, those around them began chanting, “Kiss the cod! Kiss the cod!”Lane saw that he would have to give her a little help. Ever so gently, he flicked his wrist and thwapped her on mouth with the head of the fish.

“Eeewww!” she screamed. But she'd have her certificate, and everyone cheered.

Next morning, the call came that Continental Flight 5 had been cleared to go.

Saturday when the call came for Rabbi Sudakand two Orthodox women to leave Friday evening, a new problem surfaced. They could not travel on the Sabbath. As the rest of the 71 passengers from their flight boarded buses for the airport, the three remained in the school.

Rabbi Sudak had a feeling he was meant to stay in Newfoundland.

In the afternoon a man came to visit the rabbi. He was at least 70 and partially blind. He moved stiffly. His name was Eddie Brake. Although he had lived in Gander for 40 years, very few people knew he was Jewish. He’d told his wife and his children only ten years before. Someone had told the rabbi a little about him, and the rabbi was eager to meet him. Brake was scared but felt the need to go. “Its time,” he told himself.

Brake had grown up in Berlin. He didn't know his birth name. He knew only that his parents had paid to have him smuggled to England when he was 7 or 8. He was adopted by a family who moved to Newfoundland in1936. They told him never to tell anyone that his birth parents were Jews. And so began his secret life.

Sitting with the rabbi, he found it all spilling out. He believed his parents and siblings had died in the Nazi concentration camps. Brake lowered his head and asked the rabbi to pass his fingers over the back of his skull. The rabbi could feel the dents and depressions Brake said were the result of beatings at the hands of his adoptive parents. He had scars on his back and on his feet as well.

He never stopped thinking of himself as a Jew, he said. He showed the rabbi his walking stick. On the handle was engraved a tiny Star of David.

Rabbi Sudak was moved by his words and encouraged him to tell his story to more people.

“I’m a secretive person,” Brake explained. But he’d needed to tell someone. And now that he had, he felt a weight lift off him. He thanked the rabbi, picked up his cane, and slowly shuffled out the door.

Rabbi Sudak stopped wondering why he had been brought to Newfoundland. On Saturday, Lufthansa Flight 400was given clearance to proceed toNew York. In Knoth’s mind this was a special moment—the passengers and the crew seeing it through together On arrival in New York, Knoth and theEuropean passengers walked across the terminal and onto a waitingLufthansa plane to Frankfurt.

For Baldessarini the flight to New York gave him more time to think and, symbolically at least, it helped close the circle of events from last week.

The last flight left Gander on Sunday afternoon. It took a few days for the town to clean the shelters, reopen schools and restock stores but much longer for people to absorb the magnitude of what had happened in New York and Washington. In the past, it had been easy to drown out events in other parts of the world, so far removed. Now, they had seen how a tragedy more than a thousand miles away could touch their lives directly.

The provincial government in St. John’s offered to pay for a giant party for all the volunteers, as a way of thanking them. As word spread, people in town overwhelmingly decided against it. There was no need. They did what they did for one reason only—it was the Newfoundland way.

Passengers showed their appreciation by passing the hat, often collecting several thousand dollars in cash for the school or group that had taken them in. Others wrote checks to the Canadian Red Cross, the Salvation Army or the town governments. Passengers on one flight set up an annual scholarship fund. Pastor Bartlett’s church and Lewisporte Middle School received Rockefeller Foundation grants.

Firefighter Kevin O’Rourke’s body was recovered on September 23. Officials believe he was in a North Tower stairwell, between the 65th and 70th floors, when it collapsed.

David De Rubbio’s body was never recovered.

George Vitale worked 16-hour days coordinating dignitary access to the site of the World Trade Center collapse. The first time he went for his run and saw the smoke from fires still burning, he was overwhelmed.

Several weeks later, he felt himself coming apart. He was at his desk when he got a call from Derm Flynn, mayor of Appleton. Flynn and Vitale had become friends during the trooper’s stay.“Just thinking about you, buddy,” Flynn said. “How’s she going?”

Flynn’s voice brought back all the good memories Vitale had about the people of Newfoundland—their kindness, their strength, their support. Over the next few months,Flynn seemed to call just when Vitalewas feeling his lowest. The following February, Vitale and another passenger from his flight returned to Newfoundland and were guests of honour at Appleton’s Winterfest.

An Enduring Gratitude

What happened in Gander inspired the hit Broadway musical Come From Away. And in the 20 years since 9/11, the unexpected hospitality of a place many had never heard of left a mark to last a lifetime on some of the people who experienced it. Here are a few examples:

Since returning to London, Rabbi Leivi Sudak has often cited Gander as an example of what is possible in the world. “You have to learn from this,” he tells people. “The message is sacred.” Ed Brake died in 2008 at the age of 72. Deborah Farrar is married and has three daughters, and lives near Houston. She donates 30 per cent of the commissions from her real-estate job to charity. “I was 28 when I was in Gander,” she says. “And seeing how they came together to help, it had a real effect on me.”

Dennis O’Rourke passed away in 2019. He was 86. For HannahO’Rourke, the longest-lasting relationship from her time in Gander has been with Beulah Cooper. The two women, both in their 80s, talk at least once a month. Their conversations are filled with laughter.

Lufthansa pilot Reinhard Knoth said despite the hijackings on 9/11 he never hesitated getting back into the cockpit.He loved flying too much. But after45 years he retired and settled down with his family in Butzbach, Germany, where he tends to his garden.

For George Vitale of Brooklyn, his experience in Gander stands in sharp contrast to the tragic events of 9/11, when so many people he knew were lost. “That has never left me, the feeling of love by perfect strangers that looked after us,” he said, crying as he spoke. “I never experienced anything like that in my life. So for 20 years I’ve tried to pass that on to people that I come into contact with.

”Derm Flynn retired as mayor of Appleton in 2018. Over the past several years and he and his wife Diane have hosted gatherings at their home. “We had people coming from all over theU.S. and Canada to sit down and talk about 9/11 all over again,” Derm said.

But the halt on tourism during the pandemic has been hard on Newfoundlanders. “It’s not in our culture to be social distancing,” Dermsaid. “It’s more like us to say, `You’re as welcome as the flowers in May. Come on in.

’”Des Dillon, who oversaw Red Cross efforts in Gander, has no doubt the town would rise to the challenge again if called upon. “If everybody were to come here tomorrow,” he said, “they would get welcomed with open arms.

 

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