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    BETWEEN TAKEOFF AND LANDING: September 11th, 2001


Between Takeoff and Landing is based on true events of September 11th, 2001, in Newfoundland Canada. Six thousand people were landed in Gander, Newfoundland. Below are two news account of this unique and little told story of the day.







November 18, 2001, Sunday

FOREIGN DESK

Unexpected Guests Warm Hearts in the Frozen North


By BARBARA CROSSETTE

GANDER, Newfoundland -- It could have been a short, sweet story: planes get diverted, local people pitch in to help stranded passengers. Polite thank-you letters and gifts follow.

What happened in Newfoundland  in one terrifying week in September was all that. But in the next two months, the story continued to grow. Here and in scattered hamlets for miles around, everyone has a part of it to tell -- how half a dozen or so isolated communities have been embraced by strangers who dropped from the sky and changed their lives.


Greg King was there when it started. An air traffic controller, he was on duty on Sept. 11 at Gander, once the hub of North Atlantic air travel, but now an airport that sees few commercial aircraft on the ground while still directing them overhead. Late that morning, when he was preparing for the daily ''wall of airplanes'' from Europe heading for arrivals in New York and other cities, Mr. King suddenly received an order to shut down the sky.

Thirty-eight planes were told to land immediately, and for a couple of hours Mr. King barely had time to call his wife and say he would be bringing strangers home for the night. At some point, he recalls, he also registered a fleeting image of an Air France Boeing 747 ''bigger than the airport terminal.''

Gander, a town of 10,000 people with 550 hotel rooms, had to find beds and food for 6,579 passengers and crew members. Other airstrip towns in Newfoundland and Labrador also had unexpected company, but not on this scale.

''This never happened before in the history of aviation,'' said Terry Parsons, chairman of the Gander International Airport Authority. Fortunately, Gander -- created as a military airfield and a trans-Atlantic refueling point in the 1930's -- has a long runway, and a disaster plan. It also has churches, service clubs, doctors and shop owners with small-town, good-neighbor values long out of date in many places, including other parts of Canada.


''We're used to helping people,'' said Mayor Claude Elliott, speaking of a region that lives with rough seas, harsh weather and an uncertain economy. ''I guess our biggest problem was trying to explain to people where they were.''

Jake Turner, the town manager, went into action as soon as the planes started landing. Des Dillon of the Canadian Red Cross was asked to round up beds, along with Maj. Ron Stuckless of the Salvation Army, who also became the coordinator of a mass collection of food that emptied refrigerators for miles around. Employees from the local co-op supermarket arrived with a refrigerated truck full of meat and other provisions. At St. Martin's Anglican Church, Hilda Goodyear spent 48 mostly sleepless hours organizing bedding and priming the parish hall's kitchen for a Lufthansa flight.

People from as far away as Twillingate, an island off the Kittiwake Coast of Newfoundland, prepared enough sandwiches and soup for at least 200 people and drove an hour and a half to Gander to deliver it to dazed and frightened passengers being herded off planes without luggage and under intense scrutiny.


Page 2.


Responding to radio announcements, the residents and businesses of Gander and other towns supplied toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, blankets and even spare underwear, along with offers of hot showers and guest rooms. Newtel Communications, the telephone company, set up phone banks for passengers to call home. Local television cable companies wired schools and church halls, where passengers watched events unfolding in New York and realized how lucky they were.

There were some with special needs. Carl and Ethna Smith found kosher food through an airport caterer and a new set of kitchenware for an orthodox Jewish family from New York. At the Gander Baptist Church, Gary and Donna House dealt with the needs of four Moldovan refugee families, members of a religious sect who spoke no English and were bewildered by events.

The passengers, who left with tears and hugs, have responded with their own astonishing acts of generosity. Lewisporte, a seaside town where 4,000 people made room for 773 unexpected guests, received new lighting for the Anglican church and a scholarship fund worth $19,000 ''and still growing'' said the mayor, Bill Hooper.

More than $51,000 has been donated so far to Gander, a town where no one asked to be paid for their hospitality.

Those five days in September, and the stream of e-mail messages, gifts, photographs and invitations that still pour in, have given an incalculable lift to the Newfoundlanders -- the ''Newfies'' who are the butt of rube jokes in the rest of Canada.

''It gave the people a sense of self-worth,'' said Mr. House, a retired teacher and school librarian. ''Newfoundlanders have often felt put down. They speak funny. There are all those 'goofy Newfie' jokes.

''Hey! We are all appreciated,'' he added. ''We are good people.''



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Letter from Gander Resident (via the Internet)


"It's been a hell of a week here in Gander. The stories are amazing. We had 38 aircraft with a total of 6656 people drop by for coffee; they stayed for 3 or four days. Our population is just under 10,000, so you can imagine the logistics involved in giving each of these people a place to sleep and hot meal three times a day. Many of us spent our time bringing people home so they could get a shower or, once the rain started on the third day, driving them to the mall or sight seeing to relieve their boredom. The diversity of the people who have been in my car and in my shower over the past few days is pretty wild. You should have seen the look on my little girl's face when three Muslim women came home with me for a shower. With their robes, she could only see their faces, hands and feet. Their hands and feet were covered with Henna Paint and two of them didn't speak English. There was a King from the Middle East here. A British MP. The Mayor of Frankfurt Germany, etc. There were also immigrants from all over the world, some of whom didn't have two pennies to rub together. They all slept side by side in schools and church halls. Except the Irish, of course! A flight from Ireland was put up at a couple of local drinking establishments! The Royal Canadian Legion and the Elks Club. One woman here gave a driving tour to a fellow from the US. When she brought him back to his gymnasium cot, they exchanged cards. She looked at his and said, "So you work with Best Western?" He replied, "No, I own Best Western".


"You should have been here, but of course, there wouldn't have been room."

 
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