When U.S. airspace was closed following the 9/11 attacks, flights carrying more than 6,500 international travelers were diverted to the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, nearly doubling the population of the town within hours. Residents opened their doors to their unexpected guests, and for five days, offered places to stay, food and other necessities, and formed bonds that are still felt today.
They simply felt it was the right thing to do.
Fifteen years later, many seem in awe that the heartwarming story has made its way to Broadway in the musical “Come From Away.”
Some of the residents on whom the play’s cast was based visited New York for the play’s official opening. Their visit included time at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum to honor the people who were killed in the attacks, and to reflect on their experience.
Oz Fudge, a Gander police constable, remarked on the bonds between emergency responders whose heroism is honored throughout the memorial and museum.
“It's in my DNA, it's in my son's, it's in any officer; you go to a scene to try and save," Fudge told CBC. “That's why you go.” Claude Elliott has been Mayor of Gander since 1996. He credited the people of his town for volunteering to help before even being asked.
“It was a community effort, there’s no question about it. It was the right thing to do in a time of need,” Elliott said during his visit to the Memorial. “Those people were in a strange place, they just heard that their country had been under attack, a lot of them were scared, and as much as they needed food, and they needed clothing, and they needed somewhere to sleep, I think they needed love more than all that put together … they needed that compassion and that’s what we gave them.”
The true story is among those told in the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s historical exhibition. Jackie Pinto, one of the passengers who spent time in Gander, donated a souvenir tile from the Gander airport and other mementos from her experience to the museum.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff