Conciliator friend, Judith
Darlington just sent this to us:
Good things can come
from bad situations!
A beautiful story from a flight crew member
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 Newfoundland.
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
landing. 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
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
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's. 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 .
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 WorldTradeCenter 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 WorldTradeCenter 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 , Gander airport told us that our turn to
deplane would come at ,
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.
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 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
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
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 all started. 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
We all had a great time until we got that call, 2 days later, on the 14th at
. We made it to
the airport by and
left for Atlanta
at arriving in Atlanta at about . (Gander is 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of EST,
yes!, 1 hour and 30 minutes.).
But that's not what I wanted to tell you. 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
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 guests. 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
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
When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone
numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14.5K or about $20K Canadian. 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.
As I write this account, the trust fund is at
more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education.
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? WHY
Knowing about Urban Legends, and "nice stories,"
I asked Delta about the validity of this, and received the following from them
on October 26, 2001:
The story of Delta Flight 15 stranded in Gander on the island of Newfoundland is a true story. The
Dr. who set up the scholarship fund is Dr. Robert Ferguson. His answering
service number is 336-718-5195. The website link is: Apparently,
long gone, as of July 8, 2016
Thanks for contacting Delta.
Rhonda Brooks Human Resources - Customer Svcs./Int'l. 404-714-6461 firstname.lastname@example.org