August 13, 2019
When I was staying in Miramichi, New Brunswick a few days ago I had several long conversations with my hostess there covering a variety of topics. Of course we talked about Airbnb experiences and she was curious where all I had stayed in Canada.
When I mentioned Gander she asked about September 11. I basically said “What about it?”. Turns out the airport in Gander, Newfoundland was where many international flights were diverted to when the “land immediately at the nearest aircraft-capable airport” order was issued to all domestic flights in the air as well as international flights bound for the US (mainly from Europe). I think the ones in the Pacific went mainly to Guam, Hawaii or western Canada. I kinda sortof knew about this but thought the bulk of the Atlantic flights had landed in Iceland or Greenland.
(Photo credit: twitter.com)
They had them parked in the grass, which created it’s own set of problems, so that others could land until all flights were safely down. They then lined them all up on the tarmac as you see in the photo above, until the “all clear” was issued.
Gander almost doubled it’s population when 38 jets were forced to land there (in addition to those which were already scheduled to be there for a total of 47 on the ground!). The townspeople rallied to help house and feed the 6,700 passengers and crew who had this unexpected layover. They became known as the “plane people”. Gander became “casserole city” and the local Walmart ran out of almost all their food and clothing stock. Due to the heightened security risk given the events which occurred that day everyone was a suspect and passengers were denied access to their luggage.
There was a documentary, “You Are Here”, made about the event and how it affected Gander.
Gander has a huge runway, partly due to the military presence there and the big cargo jets they use. It was, in fact, on the list of potential emergency landing sites which were determined in advance worldwide for the US Space Shuttle program should one of the Shuttles have needed to make an emergency landing mid-flight (as was Stewart-Newburgh, New York, near where my older younger brother lives).
Can you imagine being an air-traffic controller at an airport and after getting the “Mayday” call having to say “Shuttle Endeavour, you are cleared to land – Runway 7 Right”. Fortunately that never had to happen at a civilian airport, though they did make one unplanned landing at White Sands in New Mexico.