From a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15, written after 9-11:

2001-9-11On 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 US.

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 US. 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 air crafts. 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 US commercial jets.

Gander Airport
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 World Trade Center 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 11 am 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.Gander SleepingAbout 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 US 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.Gander Welcome

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.”Gander Sleeping 1

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 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 laundry mats 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.Gander AirplaneWhen 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.

Canadian US Flags

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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90 Responses to From a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15, written after 9-11:

  1. Jeri Schille says:

    There is a book called The Day the World Came to Town, about this very incident. It’s a wonderful read!

    • James Blaine says:

      The book is available on Amazon e-book, paperback and hardcover.

    • Katrina Corbett says:

      This should be required reading for all school age children. To make the commemoration of this attack and the people who came to our aide at our darkest hour. This is a pay it forward lesson…GREAT TEACHING MOMENT.

    • Paula Simmons says:

      Jeri I have read that book. It’s a great read about the wonderful people of Gander.

  2. Where can we get a copy of the book, The Day The Came To Town,? That is such an inspiring story.The money’s raised for the students of that town, was so astounding. Bless them all. God’s bless America and all those wonderful people invmiolved in this terrible tragedy.

  3. Alex Clemens says:

    A lovely piece of writing that celebrates all that is good about humanity. Thank you for putting it down in words and sharing it.

  4. Thank you jeri. I will get the book on my kindle,….GOD BLESS AMERICA?? LAND THAT I LOVE ♥

  5. Thank you Jeri. I will get the book on my kindle.GOD BLESS AMERICA AND YOU♥♥♥♥

  6. Therese bromm says:

    I am very proud of this story for two reasons1st I I am an Newfie by birth& I am always teased about being to friendly by my friends .they call me Mary poppins.
    I am very proud of how the newbies treated the people who were stranded and frightened. It makes me believe that my way is the better.
    Therese bromm
    Si NY

  7. Don Charisma says:

    Lovely story thanks for sharing … a good reminder that there’s good people out there 🙂


    Don Charisma

  8. John says:

    This is humanity… we need more of this everyday!

  9. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Newfoundland four times, including on my honeymoon, and have always found the inhabitants to be as friendly as any people I’ve met anywhere. The fob for my motorcycle key is the flag of Newfoundland, and my will asks that some of my ashes be spread there. Finer people cannot be found, and this story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Waynette says:

    Beautiful story, thanks for sharing this with everyone. I believe there are truly more good people in the world than evil. I just wish this kind of thing happened every day and not just when something horrific happens. We need to be more sensitive to needs of others all the time not just when disasters strikes

  11. Marilyn says:

    Beautiful story. Loved the way people worked together.

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  13. Alan lapp says:

    Great story, it tells how there are great people in this world, and your right only the negative stories make the news

  14. Teresa Kleffel says:

    This story should be made into a movie. Very inspirational and beautiful.

    • breakstone says:

      this story was made into a musical play which premiered here in san diego this year at la jolla playhouse. it is called “up there”and it was a privilege to usher for it.

  15. Christine McLane says:

    Absolutely beautiful, this story is worthy of a movie.

  16. On the other hand there was no radar and facilities for the 747s that had to land at Whitehorse, Yukon, now a province. An amazing feat by Korean airlines, negotiating that small airport after their emergency transponder was set on. I recall this story and book and the wonderful people of Gander to thank. We also sent jets into Canada according to Congressional testimony by then General Richard Myers, some for some reason or reasons, behind their closed doors.

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  18. netterfield says:

    Dear Ann Laemmlen Lewis, you are a great writer. Keep up the good work. This made me cry as I am sitting here in Mexico. What a great story about the inherent goodness of mankind.
    Big hug,

  19. Rosalie Sterner says:

    A play has been created based on the book referenced above – it is called “Come from Away”. It was premiered in San Diego, CA and will be coming the The Rep in Seattle 11/15. I understand it is a wonderful play and am looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for sharing this story

    • Deborah Zambianco says:

      Indeed, it was incredible! Saw it here in San Diego, and would go again in a heartbeat. Just wonderful! Don’t miss it!!

    • Kim says:

      I saw this play(musical) in SD and it is truly amazing. Not a dry eye in the house. You will laugh, you will cry, you will get goose bumps. If you have the opportunity to see it, GO! You will not regret it.

    • craigylee says:

      “Come From Away” was a wonderful musical play. It really captured the generosity of the folks of Gander, and it helps put a more human face on how 9/11 touched so many people. It was inspiring to see how people, no matter where they are from, want to help out in times of crisis. Now if we could only do that all the time!

  20. Tomas says:

    That is realy a good story. It shows what a humaninty means. It doesn’t matter race, nationality, religion because we are all one and we should unite as humans anywhere in the World. Live in peace and help each other, this way we can change the World for better.

  21. Thank you for a POSITIVE story that was not what I was expecting from your photo of the Trade Towers…wow! People will step up to their highest selves if given the chance…leadership and integrity are all it takes. Where one shows the way, others will follow.

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  24. ddc1981 says:

    Thank you for sharing your 9/11 story. I love reading all the untold accounts of that day. It really goes to show the strength and humanity of people at a vournable time.

  25. JVB says:

    What an incredible story!

  26. Amazing story!

  27. denis daniel says:

    Lovely, I love the story. Hard to find people like that in the world right now. This age of selfishness.

  28. Cindy Lewis says:

    Just curious. Was this compelling read the first hand experience of the owner of this blog (that is, was she the Delta 15 flight attendant), or was it a retelling of “The Day the World Came to Town?”

  29. Tom Lemke says:

    I am so tired of hearing and reading bad and evil. I read this story over and over again and cried.thought this is the way God wanted it. God Bless America

  30. This story made me realize that people truly are good at heart.

  31. Clement Chow says:

    That was some good hospitality from Newfoundland. The trust fund was certainly a surprise too. Proves the good in all of us, it’s just a matter of the threshold that binds us before we start showing kindness for each other.

  32. Mary and Curt says:

    Wonderful story but why “God Bless America?” The wonderful people are in Newfoundland. If you need to salute god for their inspiring actions, could we “God Bless Canada”?

  33. Suzee Kaanoi says:

    I am so glad I read this with no preconceived notions. A friend passed along, saying cryptically, “read it, don’t ask questions, just read it, please. You won’t regret it.” She was right! I’ve read through all the comments; not one negative comment, all very positive and uplifting. How often does THAT happen? I am crying my eyes out, btw. The beauty and kindness, the innate goodness of people, given the chance, is so inspiring. Just heartfelt. I wonder, how many more stories like this are still only in someone’s memory? This is one plane out of thousands, surely there are so many more. I hope they will all be shared one day.

  34. Heather Bougie says:

    And God Bless Canada too!

  35. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story that came to be out of such tragedy!

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  37. herameah says:

    I am so glad this story was shared. I am sad that more stories like this one were not made public. It was such a tragic time and it would have been nice to share at the time how wonderful people in our world can be. A beacon of hope in a sea of horror! Thank you for sharing your heartfelt memories!

  38. evangeina says:

    this is sadd very sadddd ;(

  39. joanneeddy says:

    9 11 is always emotional for me. I helped lead a Salvation Army volunteer team from Upstate New York that went to Ground Zero on September 14th where we set up an aid station for the first responders in the debris on a girder from the South Tower. I had not heard the details of this story before and the good hearted response reminded me of my experience. We worked 12 hour shifts and when we’d drive out people would be standing along the West Side Highway holding candles, cheering and offering us water. On our first night, covered in the thick gray dust that was everywhere, we stopped to eat at a restaurant. As we walked in, all the diners stood and gave us a standing ovation and when it was time to leave we found our check had been paid. The terrorists attacks demonstrated the worst human can do, but the amazing selfless response of the firefighters and police, the caring of all we met, demonstrated the best. I am sure this memory is as deeply embedded in your memory as my time there is in mine. Thank you for sharing. (If you might want to know more about mine I did do a blog on my experience called In the Ashes of My Brothers.)

  40. cdukulele says:

    I got to the part where the bakery stayed open to bake fresh bread for the “plane people” and my eyes started to water from pure joy…The love humans can have for each other is amazing, especially after hearing about all the hurt we can cause, it’s so nice to see the love. Thank you for your post.

  41. C W says:

    Wow what an inspiring and uplifting story to read especially on the back of so much tragedy. Reading in London with tears running down my face! Will definitely be buying the book.

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  43. Krzysztof Moczulski says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this story. Very touching and great read.

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  45. Maureen says:

    I had the pleasure of reading this wonderful book and also had my students read as well. It gives you faith in mankind and that there are good people all at our the world.


  47. Very interesting story. I think you can make it into a book, especially if those are your photos. I live near the Mount Hope Airport. We got 5 international flights. For 3 days, I did not hear any airplanes. It was so quiet.

  48. AJ says:

    What a beautiful story- thank you for sharing. I see that you are in Yakima- a place where some of my favorite people live! We spent two years there for medical school, and while my husband studied away, I found some of my dearest friends. We were so excited to hear of the new Yakima Mission! Some of my friends in our old ward helped prepare the mission home. Enjoy that beautiful place and those wonderful people.

  49. Pat Graves says:

    I live in Seattle on the West Coast and was just waking up to get ready for work when the story came over my clock radio! I worked in a middle school. There was shock and outrage and fear among all of the staff and students that day, but our day was kept calm and quiet by our principal. I also live within 5 miles of SeaTac, Seattle’s International Airport. The silence of no flights for that day and the days following was awesomely scary.

    Bless all of those folk in Gander and from the rest of the world who gave and helped in our time of crisis. I thank you all for showing us what mankind should practice everyday.

    I will also be getting tickets to the Rep to see the musical, “Come From Away”. My family is a theater family and all the men have worked the Rep at one time or another. I will be going provided there are tickets left. What a heartwarming story. Thank you for sharing the information about the stage play.

    Blessings to all those who have responded here! As one writer said this is an anomaly for any public site that posts comments. NOT ONE derogatory comment!

  50. Kevin Kearns says:

    Very well written and touching story, it was difficult to make it through it while wiping away the tears. A couple of comments though. The official number from Operation Yellow Ribbon is 6,612 passengers and crew that were stranded, not 10,500. You also ruined the mood with the very last line. I understand it but it has no place in this and sounds more like a facebook posting than a story that comes from the heart

    • Jeanne Fuller says:

      I think the last line gives further testimony to the goodness & generosity of people, if you are referring to the amount of money raised & how many students it has helped.

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