Delta Flight 15

Go get a box of Kleenex NOW if you are going to read this story sent to me by my friend Gloria. She always sends outstanding photos and stories but this is the best so far:

A good story after all the bad ones we hear. I had never really thought of what happened to all the other flights headed for the States on 9/11. It is past 16 years since 9/11 and here is a wonderful story about that terrible day.

Jerry Brown, Delta Flight 15…(true story)
Written following 9-11:

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. All of a sudden the curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that “All Business” look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. It was from Delta’s main office in Atlanta and simply read, “All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.”

No one said a word about what this could mean. We knew it was a serious situation and we needed to find terra firma quickly. The captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland. He requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval was granted immediately — no questions asked.

We found out later, of course, why there was no hesitation in approving our request.

While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in about the hijackings.

We decided to lie to the passengers while we were still in the air. We told them 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. We promised to give more information after landing in Gander. There was much grumbling among the passengers, but that’s nothing new.

Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander … Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM … that’s 11:00 AM EST. There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their way to the U.S. 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. The reality is that we are here for another reason.” Then he went on to explain the little bit we knew about the situation in the U.S. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The captain informed passengers that Ground Control in Gander told us to stay put.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the aircrafts. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane. In the next hour or so more planes landed and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were U.S. commercial jets.

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 U.S. were either blocked or jammed.

Sometime in the evening the news filtered to us that the twin towers buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm. We had only to look out the window at the 52 other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in this predicament.

We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time.At 6 PM, Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would be 11am the next morning. Passengers were not happy, but they simply resigned themselves to this news without much noise and started to prepare themselves to spend the night on the airplane.

Gander had promised us medical attention, if needed, water, and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word. Fortunately we had no medical situations to worry about. We did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of her. The night passed without incident despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.

After that we (the crew) were separated from the passengers and were taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers were going.

We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander! We were told to just relax at the hotel and we would be contacted when the U.S. airports opened again, 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 had lots of time on our hands and found that the people of Gander were extremely friendly. They started calling us the “plane people”.

We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander and ended up having a pretty good time. Two days later, we got that call and were taken back to the Gander airport. Back on the plane, we were reunited with the passengers and found out what they had been doing for the past two days. What we found out was incredible.

Gander and all the surrounding communities (within about a 75 Kilometer radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.

ALL the high school students were required to volunteer their time to take care of the “guests”. Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up 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 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 facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration.

Phone calls and e-mails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered “Excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went for hikes in the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread.

As for the guests, food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals.

Everyone was given tokens for local Laundromats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.

Passengers were crying while telling us these stories. Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated everything beautifully. It was absolutely incredible.

When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was. mind-boggling. Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.

And then a very unusual thing happened. One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever, allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He 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 continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks 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 college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte. 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, the total was for more than $14,000!

The gentleman, a MD from Virginia, 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. “I just wanted to share this story because we need good stories right now. It gives me a little bit of hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them.

It reminds me how much good there is in the world. “In spite of all the rotten things we see going on in today’s world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good people in the world and when things get bad, they will come forward.”

This is one of those stories that need to be shared. Please do so.

This entry was posted in Story, Uncategorized and tagged , , on by .

About lifelessons

My blog, which started out to be about overcoming grief, quickly grew into a blog about celebrating life. I post daily: poems, photographs, essays or stories. I've lived in countries all around the globe but have finally come to rest in Mexico, where I've lived since 2001. My books may be found on Amazon in Kindle and print format, my art in local Ajijic galleries. Hope to see you at my blog.

23 thoughts on “Delta Flight 15

    1. lifelessons Post author

      David.. try reading it again? Some changes seemed to happen after I saved and posted it. It was okay when I read in after posting, but read it again after seeing your comment and redid it a bit. See if you can see it now?

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      1. slmret

        I had a problem with the format too, but scrolled to the bottom and clicked on comments, and it came up in a narrow column so I could at least read it. It seems to have corrected itself now.

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      2. lifelessons Post author

        This has happened to me frequently, Janet. My post will be okay but later changes. I’d looked at it after saving and posting and it was fine.. then turned into that thin column. I omitted some blank space and it went back to readable format. I think WP is having big problems right now..

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  1. slmret

    Judy, I’m in tears as I read this! It’s great to know that some good came from such a terrible tragedy which now seems to have been the beginning of an evil time in our country!

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. rugby843

    Ok, Kleenex definitely required. First for remembrance of the tragedy and then for the heartwarming actions of the people receiving the passengers. It is a wonderful reminder of love of your fellow man. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      The day that the twin towers happened, my husband was dying. He died a week later. We had no TV because we’d turned it off to move to Mexico and he didn’t want the radio on so I heard nothing except what the hospice workers would share with me when they came–whispered to me in another room so he wouldn’t hear. That was a surreal week in every way and I’ve never caught up to the total of what happened.

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  3. Embeecee

    I shall reblog this on my blog. Because people need to read it and hopefully learn the lesson being offered – that of grace under pressure and the fact that service to one’s fellow man is the greatest gift anyone can give. I remember 9/11 very clearly to this day (over 16 years later ) I was driving to work and kept hearing the news from New York. I thought it must be a hoax…surely the U.S. of A. was impenetrable to such a thing. That day my feeling of being safe in my country was shaken permanently, even though I live thousands of miles from the site of the attacks. I remember the first time a plane flew over Utah after the attacks and I remember wondering if it were going to bomb Hill Air Force Base or Dugway Proving Grounds or the military base at Camp Williams. All these places were relatively close to where I lived then. Thank you so much for sharing a story of hope and something good coming from that awful time.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Thanks, Embeecee. I loved this story as well. I was do out of it during the event that all of the news I hear of it is pretty much news to me. I was going through a traumatic event of my own and without TV and radio, was cut offr from the experience the entire nation shared. Thanks for reblogging.

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  4. Pingback: Sunday Sparks…4/15/18 | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  5. Joanne Sisco

    This story of Gander, Newfoundland is legend, as are the remarkable people from this entire province. They are known for their warmth and hospitality and yet they managed to out-do even themselves.
    During a time that was filled with horror for so many, it’s heart-warming to know that superheroes also existed 💕

    Liked by 1 person

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