Thursday September 08, 2016

The Plane People of September 11

Listen to Full Episode 52:59

It's been fifteen years since the frightening days of 9-11, when thousands of people died in terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

After the towers of the World Trade Center were hit by airplanes on September 11, 2001, the American Federal Aviation Administration ordered U.S. airspace closed. All takeoffs were halted, and forty-five hundred planes already airborne had to find a place to land. More than two hundred were diverted to Canadian airports. Ten planes landed in Moncton that day. Many more went to Newfoundland and Labrador, seventy-five in all. At seventeen of those airports, people scrambled to feed and shelter the visitors. In the process friendships were formed, some of which have lasted to this day. Fifteen years later, Rewind tells stories of how Canadians opened hearts and homes to stranded airline passengers who became known as the Plane People of September 11.

"We were immediately taken in like family. It was as if we were coming home." --  passenger Joel Porter of Cherry Hill, New Jersey 

The airport in Gander, Newfoundland is the hub of the community. In its heyday, it was the largest airport in the world. After the 9-11 attacks, 6500 displaced airline passengers descended.

Five years later, on September 11, 2006, Shelagh Rogers and her CBC Radio program Sounds Like Canada came to Gander to hear stories of how Newfoundlanders sprang into action that day.Many had been housed in the gymnasium of Gander Academy. 

Shirley Brooks-Jones of Columbus, Ohio was one of the passengers. She maintains close ties to Newfoundland and returns every year for the high school graduation in Lewisporte.Shortly after going home in 2001, she established an education fund to benefit students at Lewisporte Collegiate. The $2 million account has benefited more than 200 students.   

Shirley's story of determination to honour her Canadian friends is one of many. You'll also hear other remarkable accounts of people who formed long lasting friendships after 9/11.