GREAT STORY-DELTA AIRLINES
lengthy, but worth reading,and I'm sending
Kleenex.. it is touching... I know it is
the longest e-mail I ever got.. But Please
The author, Nazim-Amin, is a Delta
airline employee - one of the cockpit crew.
We were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt
flying over the North Atlantic and I was
in my crew rest seat taking my scheduled
rest break. All of a sudden the curtains
parted violently and I was told to go to
the cockpit, right now, to see the captain.
As soon as I got there I noticed that the
crew had one of those "All Business"
looks on their faces.
The captain handed me a printed message.
I quickly read the message and realized
the importance of it. The message was
from Atlanta, addressed to our flight,
and simply said, "All airways over the
Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at
the nearest airport, advise your
destination." Now, when a dispatcher
tells you to land immediately without
suggesting which airport, one can
assume that the dispatcher has reluctantly
given up control of the flight to the captain.
We knew it was a serious situation and we
needed to find terra firma quickly. It was
quickly decided that the nearest airport
was 400 miles away, behind our right
shoulder, in Gander, on the island of
A quick request was made to the Canadian
traffic controller and a right turn, directly
to Gander, was approved immediately. We
found out later why there was no hesitation
by the Canadian controller approving our
request. We, the in-flight crew, were told
to get the airplane ready for an immediate
While this was going on another message
arrived from Atlanta telling us about
some terrorist activity in the New York
area. We briefed the in-flight crew
about going to Gander and we went
about our business "closing down" the
airplane for a landing. A few
minutes later I went back to the
cockpit to find out that some
airplanes had been hijacked
and were being flown into
buildings all over the US.
We decided to make an announcement and LIE to
the passengers for the time being. We told
them that an instrument problem had arisen on
the airplane and that we needed to land at
Gander, to have it checked. We promised to
give more information after landing in Gander.
There were many unhappy passengers but that is
par for the course.
We landed in Gander about 40 minutes after the
start of this episode. There were already about
20 other airplanes on the ground from all over
the world. After we parked on the ramp the
captain made the following announcement. "Ladies
and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all
these airplanes around us have the same
instrument problem as we have. But the reality
is that we are here for a good reason." Then
he went on to explain the little bit we knew
about the situation in the US. There were loud
gasps and stares of disbelief.
Local time at Gander was 12:30 pm. (11:00 AM EST)
Gander control told us to stay put. No one was
allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the
ground was allowed to come near the aircraft.
Only a car from the airport police would come
around once in a while, look us over and go on
to the next airplane.
In the next hour or so all the airways over
the North Atlantic were vacated and Gander alone
ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the
world, out of which 27 were flying US flags.
We were told that each and every plane was to be
offloaded, one at a time, with the foreign carriers
given the priority. We were No.14 in the US category.
We were further told that we would be given a
tentative time to deplane at 6 pm. Meanwhile bits of
news started to come in over the aircraft radio and
for the first time we learned that airplanes were
flown into the World Trade Center in New York and
into the Pentagon in DC.
People were trying to use their cell phones but were
unable to connect due to a different cell system in
Canada. Some did get through but were only able to
get to the Canadian operator who would tell them that
the lines to the US were either blocked or jammed and
to try again.
Some time late in the evening the news filtered to us
that the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed
and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash.
Now the passengers were totally bewildered and
emotionally exhausted but stayed calm as we kept
reminding them to look around to see that we were not
the only ones in this predicament. There were 52 other
planes with people on them in the same situation. We
also told them that the Canadian Government was in
charge and we were at their mercy.
True to their word, at 6 PM, Gander airport told us
that our turn to deplane would come at 11 AM, the
next morning. That took the last wind out of the
passengers and they simply resigned and accepted this
news without much noise and really started to get into
a mode of spending the night on the airplane. Gander
had promised us any and all medical attention if needed;
medicine, water, and lavatory servicing. And they were
true to their word. Fortunately we had no medical
situation during the night. We did have a young lady
who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY
good care of her.
The night passed without any further complications on
our airplane despite the uncomfortable sleeping
arrangements. About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th
we were told to get ready to leave the aircraft. A
convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the
airplane, the stairway was hooked up and the passengers
were taken to the terminal for "processing" We, the
crew, were taken to the same terminal but were told to
go to a different section, where we were processed
through Immigration and customs and then had to register
with the Red Cross. After that we were isolated from
our passengers and were taken in a caravan of vans to a
very small hotel in the town of Gander. We had no idea
where our passengers were going.
The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people.
Red Cross told us that they were going to process about
10,500 passengers from all the airplanes that were
forced into Gander. We were told to just relax at the
hotel and wait for a call to go back to the airport, but
not to expect that call for a while. We found out the
total scope of the terror back home only after getting
to our hotel and turning on the TV, 24 hours after it
Meanwhile we enjoyed ourselves going around town
discovering things and enjoying the hospitality. The
people were so friendly and they just knew that we were
the "Plane people". We all had a great time until we
got that call, 2 days later, on the 14th at 7AM. We
made it to the airport by 8:30AM and left for Atlanta
at 12:30 PM arriving in Atlanta at about 4:30PM.
(Gander is 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of EST, yes!,
1 hour and 30 minutes.) But that's not what I wanted to
What passengers told us was so uplifting and incredible
and the timing couldn't have been better. We found out
that Gander and the surrounding small communities,
within a 75 Kilometer radius, had closed all the high
schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large
gathering places. They converted all these facilities
to a mass lodging area. Some had cots set up, some had
mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up. ALL the
high school students HAD to volunteer taking care of
the "GUESTS". Our 218 passengers ended up in a town
called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander.
There they were put in a high school. If any women
wanted to be in a women only facility, that was
arranged. Families were kept together. All the elderly
passengers were given no choice and were taken to
private homes. Remember that young pregnant lady, she
was put up in a private home right across the street
from a 24 hour Urgent Care type facility. There were
DDS on call and they had both male and female nurses
available and stayed with the crowd for the duration.
Phone calls and emails to US and Europe were available
for every one once a day. During the days the
passengers were given a choice of "Excursion" trips.
Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and
harbors. Some went to see the local forests. Local
bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the
Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to
the school for those who elected to stay put. Others
were driven to the eatery of their choice and fed.
They were given tokens to go to the local Laundromat
to wash their clothes, since their luggage was still
on the aircraft. In other words every single need was
met for those unfortunate travelers.
Passengers were crying while telling us these stories.
After all that, they were delivered to the airport
right on time and without a single one missing or late.
All because the local Red Cross had all the information
about the goings on back at Gander and knew which group
needed to leave for the airport at what time. Absolutely
incredible. When passengers came on board, it was like
they had been on a cruise. Everybody knew everybody
else by their name. They were swapping stories of their
stay, impressing each other with who had the better time.
It was mind boggling.
Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a party flight.
We simply stayed out of their way. The passengers had
totally bonded and they were calling each other by their
first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and
email addresses. And then a strange thing happened.
One of our business class passengers approached me and
asked if he could speak over the PA to his fellow
passengers. We never, never, allow that. But something
told me to get out of his way. I said "of course". The
gentleman picked up the PA and reminded everyone about
what they had just gone through in the last few days.
He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at
the hands of total strangers. He further stated that he
would like to do something in return for the good folks
of the town of Lewisporte. He said he was going to set
up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight
number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide a
scholarship for high school student(s) of Lewisporte to
help them go to college. He asked for donations of any
amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with
donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone
numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14.5K or about
The gentleman who started all this turned out to be an
MD from Virginia. He promised to match the donations
and to start the administrative work on the scholarship.
He also said that he would forward this proposal to
Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well. Why, all
of this? Just because some people in far away places
were kind to some strangers, who happened to literally
drop in among them.