Nfld. & Labrador

Meet the Marsons, the couple brought together in Gander during 9/11

The Marsons met in the fall of 2001, in a way fit for a romantic Hollywood drama — or a very successful Broadway musical pegged to the terrible events of 9/11.

Diverted to the community, they explored central Newfoundland together and fell in love

The Dover Fault is where Diane and Nick Marson fell in love during their stay in Newfoundland. They were brought together by luck, or fate, but Nick says it was special. (Submitted by Nick Marson)

The Marsons met in the fall of 2001, in a way fit for a romantic Hollywood drama — or a very successful Broadway musical.

The story of the 9/11 attacks in the United States in September 2001 is all too real, but those terrible events allowed Diane and Nick Marson to find each other in a little town far away from their intended destinations.

Their meeting would help inspire Come From Away, the hit Broadway musical that details how the people of central Newfoundland opened their homes to travellers stranded there on that day. The story of the Marsons is central to the show.

"We were both on the same flight," Nick Marson told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

But it wasn't until the flight landed that the couple officially met, in Gander and then on to Gambo.

The conversation began in a line to obtain their medications from a pharmacist due to their luggage being stuck on the airplane, then in another line to get blankets.

"They brought in army cots for beds, and we were standing in line to get a blanket, and I was standing next to Diane and she said they smelled like mothballs," Nick said.

"We just started talking at that point, and I asked her if I could share the cot next to her. There was 70 of us up there."

Nick Marson says this photograph was his reminder that what transpired in Newfoundland between him and his future wife was very real, and not a dream. (Submitted by Nick Marson)

The following day, the couple watched as international news was breaking about the attacks in New York City. Nick said it was disturbing to watch, so the pair decided to go for a walk.

"Another couple, a man and a doctor from Cincinnati, they decided to go for a walk as well, so we went with them. As luck would have it, the lady was wearing sandals and it was a gravel road, so they didn't go very far," he said.

"They went back to the shelter and Diane and I carried on walking."

Fear of the unknown

Diane said she was initially worried for her son. He often flew for work, she had been gone for two weeks, and not knowing where he was at the time weighed on her.

"We didn't know exactly what was going on until we were at the shelter. We just knew that there was terrorist activity in the United States," she recalled.

"No one had cellphones, and if you had a cellphone it didn't work. It was very unnerving and scary. We were OK, but you didn't know if your family was OK."

The Dover Fault

Within a few days in Newfoundland, Nick says he had an interest in Diane that was sparked from being screeched-in together.

"The master of ceremonies had offered to marry us when he found out we weren't married. Then Diane, who had a couple of beers at that point said, 'Well, why not?'" he said.

"Then I started thinking, 'Hmmm, OK,' and all these things going on and you sort of start checking off boxes in your mind, you know, this is all going in the right direction."

The following day, the duo headed out to see the Dover Fault.

The Marsons met as their flight was diverted to Gander in September 2001. Seventeen years later, Nick and Diane Marson still visit Newfoundland. (Submitted by Nick Marson)

"At that point, I didn't think I was ever going to see her again after we got back onto life's treadmill. I wanted a picture to remind me that this really did happen," Nick said.

"I had her business card and now I had this picture. The first week after I got back to the U.K., I would check that picture in the mornings. It sounds stupid now, but it was just to make sure it really did happen. It wasn't just a dream."

Diane knew what Nick was up to when the picture was taken.

"The Dover Fault is a beautiful, scenic, historical place. I started to step out of the way so he could take a picture of the view, and he said, 'No, no. Stay there, stay there.' Then I thought 'I think this guy is interested in getting a picture of me,'" she said with a laugh.

The Marsons both agree that the turning point was the next day when Diane says she became emotional to be leaving. Nick put his arm around her on the school bus as the group of stranded passengers made their way back to Gander to catch a flight home.

Nick, being the British gentleman that he is, said he tried to give Diane a comforting kiss on the forehead during the ride. Diane recalls the event a little differently.

"The school bus was maybe jumping around, and I thought he missed kissing me so I just grabbed him and kissed him on the mouth, and that sort of set the scene," she said.

They came from away

Nick proposed to Diane over the phone in November 2001, 8,000 kilometres apart. Their honeymoon? Where else but Gander and Gambo.

Come From Away, which has immortalized their meeting, was workshopped in 2012 before premiering in 2013 and making its way through progressively larger theatres until its Broadway debut in March 2017, where it continues today.

Following a pre-Broadway production in Toronto, the show has also returned to that city for a run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until Jan. 20, and then a stint from Feb. 5 to April 28 at the Elgin Theatre. The musical is also premiering in London, England, in late January.

The Marsons stand atop the Dover Fault lookout where they spent some of their time after their plane diverted to Gander on 9/11. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The Marsons have seen the show 75 times, their lives played out in front of them and sold-out audiences around North America. 

"In the wake of all of that disaster, we've found something very special in life," Nick said.

With files from the St. John's Morning Show

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador