'The best side of humanity': American stranded in Newfoundland during 9/11 tells his story in new book

Texan Kevin Tuerff's new book tells the story of his remarkable experiences in Newfoundland after his Air France plane was diverted there following the 9/11 attacks.

Kevin Tuerff hopes his new book helps to heal current political divide

Kevin Tuerff in Toronto at a book signing event for his book "Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11." (Paul Smith/CBC)

When Texas native Kevin Tuerff was flying home from a vacation in France, he noticed his plane's GPS map showing the aircraft heading somewhere near the North Pole, instead of west to New York, where he had a layover.

The captain made a static-filled announcement shortly after, in French, about a "terrorist attack in the United States" and a strange place called "Terre-Neuve."

It was Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

American airspace was closed due to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and Tuerff's Air France flight was redirected to Gander, Newfoundland or "Terre-Neuve".

Tuerff, who was in Toronto Friday, tells the story of his experience in his new book, Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11.

"I am relentlessly telling the story of my 9/11 experience because people need to hear what happened to me," said Tuerff. "On that terrible day in the United States, I witnessed the best side of humanity in Canada."

The kindness of locals in Gander during 9/11 is now famous after writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein told the story in the award-winning musical, Come from Away. Tuerff's character is portrayed by American theatre actor Chad Kimball in the play.

Kevin Tuerff is the author of "Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11." (Paul Smith/CBC)

Tuerff says he has seen the play 21 times, in every city where it was performed. "As it went across the United States, people said, 'I've never heard of this, I want to hear more,'" said Tuerff. "I thought to myself, I have more."

 He includes details in his book that are not in the play, including what happened after he and his partner left Gander and how they commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 every year.

'The good guys are going to win this battle'

Tuerff says it's important to talk about their experiences because it inspires others to open up.

"I met a man who was a dentist in the World Trade Centre and he made it out, but he lost 20 of his patients and he said, 'I haven't been able to talk about 9/11 until now and after seeing this musical, it feels right,'" said Tuerff.

He also hopes that his message will effect positive change. "I believe we can heal some of the current political divide if we get back to basic kindness to strangers, decency," he said. "I hope that my book inspires that."

Maureen Basnicki was an Air Canada flight attendant during 9/11. She lost her husband Ken in the World Trade Center attack. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Maureen Basnicki, a Canadian woman whose husband died on the 106th floor of the World Trade Centre, attended the book signing event for Tuerff in Toronto. She said it's important to get a message of kindness out to the world.

"What better legacy can we give to family members who lost their loved ones that day than to tell them the good guys are going to win this battle," said Basnicki.

"The world is filled with people who want to show their love and their humanity."