The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland

by Jim DeFede

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The True Story Behind the Events on 9/11 that Inspired Broadway’s Smash Hit Musical Come from Away

When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

As the passengers stepped from the airplanes, exhausted, hungry and distraught after being held on board for nearly 24 hours while security checked all of the baggage, they were greeted with a feast prepared by the townspeople. Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches. Linens and toiletries were bought and donated. A middle school provided showers, as well as access to computers, email, and televisions, allowing the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

Over the course of those four days, many of the passengers developed friendships with Gander residents that they expect to last a lifetime. As a show of thanks, scholarship funds for the children of Gander have been formed and donations have been made to provide new computers for the schools. This book recounts the inspiring story of the residents of Gander, Canada, whose acts of kindness have touched the lives of thousands of people and been an example of humanity and goodwill.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062103284
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/12/2011
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,205
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in Talk, The New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Roxanne and Clark Loper were homeward bound.

Nearly three weeks had passed since they left their ranch outside the small Texas town of Alto and embarked on a journey to adopt a two-year-old girl in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. It was a journey more than fifteen months in the planning and saw the young couple race through airports, bounce along bumpy roads, and wind their way across the Ural Mountains. They dealt with bureaucrats in three different countries and spent their life savings, all for the sake of a child whose picture Roxanne had seen one day on the Internet. Every minute, every dollar, was worth it, though, because now they had Alexandria, and by dinnertime they'd be home.

Over the last seventy-two hours, the three of them had flown from Kazakhstan to Moscow to Frankfurt and were now on the final leg of their trip, a direct flight from Frankfurt to Dallas. They all felt as if they hadn't slept in days. Shortly after takeoff, Alexandria climbed out of her seat and curled up on the floor to take a nap. Roxanne thought about picking her up and strapping her back into her seat, but she knew Alexandria liked sleeping on the floor. She felt comfortable there. It was something the child had grown accustomed to in the orphanage.

As the Lopers' plane, Lufthansa Flight 438, proceeded northwest out of Frankfurt and climbed to above 30,000 feet, Lufthansa Flight 400 began preboarding its first-class passengers. Settling into her seat, Frankfurt mayor Petra Roth was excited about her trip to New York. That night there would be a party in honor of New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Roth and Giuliani had become friendsduring official visits to each other's city, and Roth was happy to travel the 4,000 miles to pay her respects to the outgoing mayor.

Sitting near Roth was Werner Baldessarini, the chairman of Hugo Boss, who was flying to New York from the company's corporate headquarters in Germany for Fashion Week -- an eight-day spectacle of clothes and models in which more than one hundred of the world's top designers show their latest wares in giant tents and on improvised runways. A good show at Fashion Week can guarantee the success of a manufacturer's collection. On Thursday evening, Baldessarini would premier Hugo Boss's Spring 2002 line at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. In addition to the financial implications of having a good show, this event was also important to Baldessarini for personal reasons. After twenty-seven years with Hugo Boss, he had made up his mind to retire in 2002. The news hadn't been leaked publicly, but this would be one of his last shows and he wanted it to be a success.

While a flight attendant offered Roth and Baldessarini a glass of champagne before takeoff in Frankfurt, a few hundred miles away in Dublin, George Vitale was taking his seat in coach aboard Continental Flight 23. As one of the people responsible for protecting New York governor George Pataki on a day-to-day basis, Vitale had flown to Ireland in early September to make advance security arrangements for the governor's visit there later that month. Unfortunately, a fresh round of violence in Northern Ireland caused the governor to abruptly cancel his trip, and the New York State trooper was told to come home.

If he had wanted to, Vitale could have stayed in Ireland to see friends and family. The forty-three-year-old is half Irish and he's made several trips over the years to the Emerald Isle. This wasn't a good time for a vacation, however. He had a number of responsibilities waiting for him at home in Brooklyn. In addition to being a senior investigator with the state police, Vitale was also taking night classes toward a degree in education. Assuming everything went smoothly, he'd be home in time for his class at Brooklyn College.

An hour after Vitale's flight ascended into the sky, Hannah O'Rourke stood outside the boarding area for Aer Lingus Flight 105 and cried as she hugged brothers and sisters good-bye. The sixty-six-year-old O'Rourke was born in Ireland's County Monaghan, about forty miles north of Dublin, but had emigrated to the United States nearly fifty years ago. She made a good life for herself in America. Along with her husband, Dennis, she raised three children and now lived on Long Island.

In recent years, she'd returned to Ireland as often as possible to see her family. This time around, she spent three weeks in the countryside with her husband. She hated saying good-bye to her kin, but her family in America was eager for her to come home. Waiting to board the plane, O'Rourke dreaded the flight back. It was no secret she hated flying, especially over water.

The scene was no less emotional for fellow passenger Maria O'Driscoll. Although the two women didn't know each other, the seventy-year-old O'Driscoll was born in County Louth, a stone's throw from O'Rourke's birthplace. O'Driscoll had come to the United States when she was a young woman. Her reason was simple: "I fell in love with a Yank." That was back in 1954.

Standing alongside her at the airport in Dublin was her husband, Lenny.

Lenny O'Driscoll wasn't "the Yank" that prompted Maria to move to America. That fellow, Maria's first husband, died in 1987. When Lenny met Maria a short time later, he, too, had lost a spouse. They married in 1993, and since then, they had been over to Ireland almost every year.

The occasion for this trip -- not that they ever needed one -- was the wedding of Maria's niece. Of her six brothers and sisters, Maria had been the only one to come to America...

The Day the World Came to Town. Copyright © by Jim DeFede. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Day One9
Day Two81
Day Three135
Day Four185
Days Five and Six213

Customer Reviews

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The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely one of the best books I've ever read, I wish there was a sequel with more stories. I recommended that friends give this as a Christmas present. Makes me want to live in Gander.
sandylovesbooks More than 1 year ago
The Day the World Came to Town chronicles the events in Gander, Newfoundland, when President Bush closed American airspace on 9/11/2001. The people of Gander, population about 10,000, had 28 planes diverted to Gander. On 30 minutes notice, they housed, fed and clothed (the passengers were not allowed their luggage) almost 8,000 people. Ganderites and passengers came together and proved that the hatred shown by the hijackers was the anamoly; real love and consideration are Western traits that no one can obliterate. This is the only happy book to come out of that terrible day, and it's one of the happiest I've ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wasn't initially thrilled that our club was reading a book about 9/11. Expected a depressing story. But this book delighted me with its positive message about the potential for basic human kindness, creative thinking, and the ways in which people deal with one another in the midst of crisis. I would recommend this book to book clubs, but also to those who have read too many stories about the tragedies associated with 9/11. This book serves as a reminder that even these horrible events can have positive side-effects. It was a joy to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How often did we think of the people and animals stranded in the air during the 9/11 attacks? When did the media report on their lives? This is an inspirational story, one that needs to be told over and over again. It is easily written and, therefore, it is easily read. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the lives of people affected by today's politics and terrorism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an amazing book and an amazing town. I feel honored to actually have read this book and understand what so many passengers went through and experienced during their stranded days. What an amazing town, to come together like I've never heard of before. I can only hope that this book will open the eyes of all those who read it, and open their hearts as well.
gcs More than 1 year ago
I've read this 3 times, and will read it again. Gave a copy to my brother, who is not a reader, and he also loved it. He's passed it along to half the state of Rhode Island - where he lives. It would be nice, as someone said, if a sequel was written - catch us up on all the people involved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My daughter's high school made this a mandatory summer read for all students. I read it first and loved it. Extremely well written and moves quickly. I live only 45 minutes from where the towers were and this is a perspective that I know I never thought about.
sjmccreary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't think any of us will ever forget September 11, 2001. We don't even need the year to remind us what happened on 9/11. It was a day of unspeakable horror, shock, sadness, and anger. And yet, despite the incredible display of human hatred and aggression, we've all heard stories of equally incredible kindness and generosity and cooperation as strangers reached out to help one another. This book is one of those stories. When American airspace was closed that day, there were dozens of planes bound for the United States that were not going to be permitted to enter the country. Our neighbor, Canada, was faced with the dilema of either accepting the flights we were refusing or sending them back. When they decided to accept them, no one knew how long it would take before travellers could continue on to the US. In the case of Gander, Newfoundland, though, people didn't wait to find out. As soon as the decision was made to force US-bound flights to land, the townspeople began preparing for company. Even though it would be hours before passengers were allowed off the planes, shelters were being set up, food was being prepared, and transportation was being arranged for the waylayed travellers. Gander used to be the site of a US military base, and has long been used as a re-fueling stop for trans-Atlantic and military flights. They have the facilities to handle large aircraft and that day they received more than 3 dozen planes in-bound from Europe, carrying more than 6,000 people. The individual stories of how the 10,000 local residents cared for all those strangers - feeding them, giving them bedding and shelter, taking them shopping and sightseeing and drinking, inviting them into their homes for showers and offering their telephones and computers to contact loved ones, and then staying up most of the night watching over sleeping families and doing laundry so that there would be clean towels in the morning - were absolutely heartwarming. Sometimes, with the constant barrage of bad news in the media, it is refreshing to be reminded that people are mostly good. We are giving, caring and generous. It's only too bad that it takes a tragedy to be reminded of that. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another side of the day that changed the world. This book reminded me how important it is to believe in the basic good in people.
caribird More than 1 year ago
Such an interesting story & piece of history I would have never known. A beautiful occurrence that came out of a horrible day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a wonderful story about the big hearts of strangers. too bad it had to come at such a great cost.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My book club read this and met to discuss it on September 12. This is a great story that had I not heard about. Its amazing what this town did for the people that were unable to complete their trip on that terrible day. Makes me eant to travel to Newfoundland.
SailingBuds More than 1 year ago
We enjoyed this book tremendously. Although the world will never forget 9/11, this book reminded me that there are kind and generous people out there. Author Jim DeFede wrote an excellent account of what it meant to those passengers whose planes were diverted and thus, spent nearly a week in the small towns of Newfoundland. These passengers were taken in and taken care of. Having spent a week along the southern coast of Newfoundland last summer, this book brought back memories of how the Newfies will do anything and more for you. It is a great read!
Sophia Crawford More than 1 year ago
At first long dut it was really good i even met the author jim defede
The_Mighty_Bonners More than 1 year ago
In the aftermath of the life changing events of 9/11, we have all heard tragic stories of loss and devastation. None of us will ever forget that day and the weeks and months that followed. I was hesitant when this book was first proposed at my book club, to commit to reading it, mainly because I was concerned that it may be a raw read. Now that I have finished the last chapter, I am so glad that I didn't trust my first reaction. What an amazing account of kindness and compassion on the grandest scale. I can't believe I had not heard about Gander, Newfoundland before this book. In a world where people tend to be caught up in there own lives and pay little attention to their neighbors, it's amazing that this small community committed to caring for so many displaced people. The expression "pay it forward" may come to mind as your read this book. The people of Gander made a lasting impression on their unexpected visitors and I would venture to guess established a legacy of community service in the hearts of many weary travelers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not much of a reader, but couldn't put this book down - it came highly recommended, and it wasn't hard to figure out why! I dare you to read just one chapter and put it down! 'Heartwarming' is an understatement! I think about eight people have borrowed my book so far...
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent book indeed. I live in Newfoundland and am very proud of our hospitality which also happens to be our tradition. Jim Defede done a superb job writing this book....great work me son!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book on vacation in Florida and could not put it down. I am so glad this story was shared with the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though I am a citizen of the United States, I am so proud of my heritage (being the child of a Newfie and also the wife of a Newfie). I found this book to be truly wonderful and yes, there are "no locks on the doors of Newfoundland". This book was so inspiritional and it brought many a tear to my eye.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With all of the negative that came out of 9/11 it is a nice change to hear about some the good, and this is one of those books. Amazing what the kindness of strangers can mean in a time of need. Illustrates that a caring spirit is still alive in the world & in Gander, Newfoundland.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a teacher and administrator I can only hope that all schools adopt this book as mandatory reading for all students. This book exposes the capabilities of the human heart. The character of the Gander people is beyond admirable. That is a society that I would wish to live in. The book has as many perspectives as it has characters. I implore all teachers to consider this as a teaching tool within their classroom. It has it all: Ethics, Morality, Multiculturalism, History, etc...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about one thing...COMMUNITY. I have refused over these past eleven months to get myself caught up in the 9/11 deluge of books, magazines and other assorted memorabilia. This book captured me from the very moment I read the dust cover and didn't let me go until I had finished (and it still hasn't turned loose). Mr Defede takes us behind the scenes and into the hearts and souls of both, the stranded international passengers and Gander, Newfoundland's citizens who opened up their town to these wayward voyagers. He does it with humanity, humor and a deft touch of caring. I strongly recommed this book for your reading enjoyment...and oh yes, you will shed a tear.
Anonymous 12 days ago
Enjoyed reading this book. Hadn't thought much about the diverted planes. This gave a great insight to the details that had to be overcome with so many converging at once to one location. Remarkable to all the cities and volunteers to pull this off with grace.
Anonymous 18 days ago
Easy read and very interesting.
CynB 3 months ago
This book tells the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland and the approximately 6000 people that were forced to land there when the United States closed airspace on 9/11. Seen through the eyes of both “plane people” and Gander residents, we learn of the tremendous effort that was made to not only clothe and feed the visitors, but to make them comfortable and attend to their emotional and social needs as well. The effort involved far more than an official response, people opened up their homes, found clothing and linens, cooked, bought and brought toys for the kids, provided rides and lent their own cars and belongings. They were warm, caring, and gracious. They became surrogate friends and family to people who had literally dropped out of the sky. Why did they do it? They did it because they believed it was the right thing to do. The story of Gander is inspiring. What that little town accomplished is testament to the power of ordinary citizens. It is what I expect that Americans would do. Could do… if they chose to.