Canada’s legacy after 9/11: How Gander opened its arms to thousands of stranded passengers

Click to play video: 'A Friend in Need: A Canadian response to 9/11'
A Friend in Need: A Canadian response to 9/11
WATCH: A Friend in Need: A Canadian response to 9/11 – Jun 3, 2017

Right after the U.S. suffered one of the world’s most shocking terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Canadians in Gander, N.L., opened their arms to the flood of stranded travellers who landed in their town of less than 10,000.

American airspace was declared a no-fly zone after four passenger airplanes were hijacked by extremists, flying two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City within 15 minutes of each other.

The airport in Gander was once a busy transatlantic stop after the Second World War, but its use was becoming infrequent in the early 1960s.

READ MORE: World Trade Center beam being gifted to Gander, NL, escorted across Maritimes

But for the many flights that had to turn back from the U.S. following 9/11, Gander International Airport became the best option to land after its runways were opened to the stranded flights.

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Thirty-eight airplanes landed at the airport, and with them, nearly 7,000 stranded passengers from more than 100 countries.

For three hectic days, citizens of Gander opened up their homes and businesses to their unexpected visitors, the “Plane People.”

The widespread gestures of goodwill inspired the Tony-nominated hit Broadway musical Come From Away, which chronicles the events after 9/11 in Gander.

READ MORE: ‘Come From Away’ to take off on North American tour in 2018

“The people of Gander … stepped up and performed their own acts of courage and heroism on 9/11 and soon thereafter for the thousands of people who descended upon them or were stranded with no advance notice whatsoever,” said a spokesperson for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

The organization was named after a firefighter who was killed while helping rescue people from the Word Trade Center.

Last September, the foundation gifted a piece of steel beam from the south tower to Gander, with an inscription that reads:

“This piece of World Trade Center steel was presented to Gander International Airport by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation on Sept. 11, 2016, in gratitude for the profound humanitarian role the airport and people of Gander played in the wake of the attacks on 9/11.”

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READ MORE: Canada 150

— With files from the Associated Press

In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, History has unveiled a slate of digital shorts, titled Thank You, Canada, reflecting our historical successes and milestones. They’ll be rolling out from now until Canada Day (July 1).

History and Global News are Corus Entertainment properties.

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