The Kindness of Strangers


a delta planeA heartwarming story and a break from mental illness and Alzheimer’s disease.

From a newspaper article by Ruth Beloff.

‘September 11th, will always be a chilling date in our collective memory and as a Canadian, I must admit that it does my heart proud to read about the way the people of Gander, Newfoudland, as well as the surrounding areas, opened their hearts and their homes to thousands of virtual strangers that day. Here’s the story:

On the morning of Tuesday, September 22, our Delta flight was about five hours out of Frankfurt, Germany, on our way to Atlanta, Georgia, flying over the North Atlantic. All of a sudden, the curtains parted and I was summoned to the cockpit immediately to see the captain. The crew had a serious look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message from Delta’s main office in Atlanta; ‘All airways over the United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.’ The captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, and requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller. It was granted immediately, no questions asked. Then word came in about the hijackings. We decided to lie to the passengers while we were still in the air and told them that the plane had a simple instrument problem and that we needed to land at the nearest airport in Gander, Newfoundland to have it checked out. There was much grumbling among the passengers and forty minutes later, we landed. There were already about 20 other planes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this same detour. Then the captain made the following announcement. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these planes around us have the same instrument problem as us. The reality is that we are here for another reason.’ He went on to explain the little bit we knew about the situation in New York. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The Canadian government was in charge of our situation and did not allow anyone to leave the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the planes either except airport police. Planes continued to land and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world.

Towards evening, the news filtered through to us that the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By this time the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted and frightened, but resigned themselves to the fact that they would have to spend the night on board. At about 10:30 the following morning, a convoy of school buses drew up and took us to the terminal where we went through immigration and customs and then on to register with the Red Cross.

The crew were taken to hotels. We learned that the town of Gander had a population of 10,400 people and that there were 10,500 passengers at their airport. We were then allowed to leave the airport. We explored the town where we enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Gander. Then, the people from our flight were given accommodation in a neighboring town called Lewisporte, whose residents opened up their homes and their hearts to us. Two days later we returned to the airport where we heard that the wonderful people of Gander as well as those of the surrounding communities had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges and any other large gathering places to convert them into mass lodging places for all the passengers. The elderly travelers were taken to private homes.

When it was considered safe to return to the United States, we were delivered to the airport once again and nobody missed a flight. Before take-off, a passenger on our plane asked for permission to speak over the PA system which is not usually allowed but an exception was made this time. He picked up the mike and thanked all the Canadians for the amazing hospitality given to so many total strangers and added that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte. He suggested setting up a trust fund to give scholarships to the high school students of that town. He asked for donations from his fellow travelers and the total amount collected was more than $14,000. Then, this very special gentleman from Virginia promised to match the donations, so by 2012, the trust fund had exceeded $1.5 million and had assisted 134 students to get college educations. ‘

What a wonderful example of Kindness to Strangers and a great way of repaying them for their hospitality.

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