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Old Feb 28, 10, 12:42 am
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Thumbs up NBC: Brokaw Feature on Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11/01

This afternoon during its Vancouver Olympics coverage, NBC aired a 45 min feature by Tom Brokaw on the town and residents of Gander, Newfoundland. Unfortunately, I cannot find it online, and I can only hope that it will appear somewhere, but it's too good a story not to share for lack of a link. I'll try to summarize:

Gander is a small town of 10,000 residents in northeastern Newfoundland. The town has two stoplights and two police officers, and the people are largely descendants of Scots and Irish, living in an often harsh, rural environment. Once a refueling stop for transatlantic flights, Gander also happens to have a large airport and houses a key Nav Canada air traffic control center. While the advent of the jumbo jet made stops at Gander obsolete, that all changed on Sept 11, 2001.

Following the attacks of that day, air traffic was grounded across N. America. As a result, some 167 westbound transatlantic flights that had passed the halfway point were redirected to airports around Newfoundland and the Maritime provinces, all controlled by Gander center. The Arrivals sector staffing was quickly increased from its normal three controllers to 14 to reroute all of the aircraft over a seven hour period. Gander International Airport (CYQX/YQX), which normally handles 8 domestic flights per day, received 38 aircraft, many jumbo jets, parked around the taxiways with nearly 7,000 passengers. Processing immigration for all of these passengers took over 24 hours, with the last passengers finally entering the airport terminal at noon on Wed, Sep 12.

Subsequently, Gander needed to absorb this near doubling of its population. With little notice, the residents of Gander responded with incredible kindness and generosity. Passengers were bused to schools, churches, and legion halls where temporary shelters were set up (Gander has only 500 hotel beds). The locals rushed to meet them with home cooked meals and other necessities. As the passengers were not allowed to access their checked baggage, residents donated clothes and opened their shops free of charge. Prescriptions were filled by the two local pharmacies at no cost. Residents opened their homes to these stranded travelers. “Everybody just put everything on hold to take care of us.”

Four days later, U.S. airspace reopened and the passengers continued onto their original destinations. However, many lasting friendships were forged over that short period, thanks to the kindness of the Ganderites. With the residents refusing to accept monetary thanks, the passengers of Delta flight 15 established a college scholarship fund for local students; from $15,000 pledged on the flight from Gander to Atlanta, the fund has now grown to nearly $900,000. Several passengers featured in the piece have returned to visit their friends in Gander, and a monument now stands there in honor of their generosity.

Bravo to the residents of Gander and the surrounding area. ^
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