Nova Scotia

September 11 attacks and Halifax's response remembered

There are few people who don't remember where they were 14 years ago when they heard the news out of New York.

40 aircraft carrying 8,000 passengers were diverted to Halifax Stanfield International that day

In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York. (Reuters)

There are few people who don't remember where they were 14 years ago when they heard the news out of New York.

Forty aircraft carrying 8,000 passengers were diverted to Halifax Stanfield International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001. (Halifax International Airport Authority)

At 8:46 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2001, the first in a series of coordinated attacks happened as American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. 

A second plane crashed into the south tower 17 minutes later. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. ET and a fourth crashed to the ground outside Shanksville, Pa., shortly after 10 a.m.

An hour and 42 minutes after the first attack, the twin towers collapsed. About 3,000 people lost their lives that day in what's been called the worst terror attack in history.

Meanwhile, air traffic over the U.S. was completely shut down, forcing thousands of planes to land immediately.

Shortly after 11:30 a.m. that day in 2001, a United Airlines B767 landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. It was the first of 40 aircraft carrying 8,000 passengers that were diverted to Halifax that day. 

"Halifax Stanfield accepted the greatest number of aircraft of any airport and was the first major airport to have all diverted flights back in the air," said Ashley Gallant, speaking for the airport in a statement.

'Nova Scotians opened their hearts'

Joyce Carter, CEO and president of the airport, was working that day as hundreds of staff responded to the crisis. 

"Though many years have passed since that fateful day, the memories are still very vivid for many of us here at Halifax Stanfield, including myself. I was working at Halifax Stanfield on Sept. 11, 2001," she said in a statement.

"I remember, in the midst of the tragedy and devastation of the day, how very proud I was to witness my colleagues stop everything and team together to focus entirely on the needs of the thousands of people who arrived unexpectedly on our doorstep." 

Carter said it took five days before flights started moving again.

"During that time members of our airport community along with so many Nova Scotians opened their hearts and their homes to these unexpected visitors," she said.

For its help, the Halifax airport received many expressions of thanks from around the globe. 

Lufthansa Airlines named a plane in honour of Halifax. Former U.S. President George Bush wrote a thank-you letter and on Sept. 1, 2006, the president sent Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state to the airport to host a reception to mark the fifth anniversary. 

"Some diverted passengers even bought space on a billboard in downtown Halifax to express their appreciation," said Carter.

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