U.S. President Barack Obama has praised the people of a central Newfoundland town for their kindness in caring for thousands of travellers whose jumbo jets made hasty landings there on Sept. 11, 2001.
"In one of the darkest moments in our history, Canada stood by our side and showed itself to be a true friend," Obama said in a letter sent Thursday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.[ Read the full text here.]
"The small city of Gander, Newfoundland, population 9,600, received 6,600 diverted passengers, while Vancouver received 8,500 people," said Obama, citing two of the airports that quickly handled diverted flights in the aftermath of the closure of North American airspace.
"For the next three days — before our airspace was reopened — those displaced passengers were treated like family in Canadian homes, receiving food, shelter, medical attention, and comfort."
In a response sent Friday, Harper agreed that Gander set an example of "the enduring bonds of friendship between Canada and the United States." [Read the text of Harper's letter.]
Gander and its neighbouring communities are organizing 10th anniversary celebrations this weekend, and some of the people who were originally stranded are returning to the town.
The story of Gander's response has already been told in various ways, from a television documentary hosted by Tom Brokaw to a book and even a musical that debuts this weekend in the town.
On Thursday, a delegation from Newfoundland and Labrador was warmly welcomed in Washington, D.C., where political leaders paid tribute to the warmth and friendship that were offered to passengers.