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The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in…

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Jim Defede

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3092136,089 (4.16)89
On the surface, the story is kind of hokey. On September 11th, 2001 thirty-eight planes are diverted from the United States to the airport in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. Resident Newfies suddenly have to find space for thousands of stranded passengers and respond with an outporing of volunteerism and cheerfulness. What makes this book for me is the details of what exactly is needed for supporting so many people unexpectedly and the many personal stories. I could not put this book down although often it made me want to weep. It really is that touching, even if it is not written very well. I recommend it highly, and now I want to go to Gander for a screeching-in ceremony. ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 25, 2008 |
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Mind. Blown.
I have had this on Mt. TBR for way too long but finally sat my butt down to read it once they announced the upcoming Broadway show. While I have doubts about how this will translate to stage, I fell in love with the book.

Everyone knows the basics of how/why the world came to Gander but while Gander became synonymous with 9/11, I don't know how many people realized it was the entirety of New Foundland that stopped their lives to help the "plane people". And that's what grabbed me. From the Chairman of Hugo Boss to parents of Kevin O'Rourke, FDNY killed in the Towers to, to an Orthodox Rabbi who later met the only Jew in New Foundland to Barbara Fast, an Army Brigadier General based in Stuttgart...

Each of these people were met & welcomed by the everyday people of Gander, Lewisporte, Gambo, Appleton and many other towns in New Foundland who became chauffeurs, cooks, hotel operators and every other need you could think of for those stranded in the five - six days after 9/11 with US airspace closed. This book, which reads like a novel, showed the good hearts of the Newfies and how both hosts and guests' lives were changed not just by the attacks on the US, but by the good people they met.

Also "understand New Foundland" may be the best mnemonic for remembering how to pronounce the island's name. ( )
  skinglist | Feb 23, 2016 |
A non-fiction story about Gander, Newfoundland in the aftermath of 9/11/01. Because U.S. airspace was closed a whole fleet of planes landed here out of necessity. This is the story of the warm welcome these strangers received in the face of the wide reaching act of terrorism. ( )
  tangledthread | Nov 9, 2015 |
I had seen an article on Facebook about the events in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11/2001, and this book was mentioned in the article. I posted about it on a Bookcrossing forum, and said that I would like to read the book. A fellow Bookcrosser generously offered to send me her copy!

A wonderful book, a true account of the events in Gander, Newfoundland and surrounding areas following the attacks of September 11, 2001. All airspace in the USA and even North America was closed, and all flights in progress had to land ASAP at the nearest airport that could accommodate them. Gander had been the site of a huge military airbase during World War II, as a fueling station en route to Europe, so it was easily able to accommodate many airplanes. There were passengers from all over the world, with many cultural differences. The good citizens of Gander (and surrounding areas) very graciously provided food, medicine, shelter, bedding, even clothing, transportation to stores, etc, and did not forget the pets still on board the planes. The dietary needs of three Orthodox Jewish passengers were provided. Friendships were formed. It is a very heart-warming and inspirational book. I enjoyed it thoroughly and would highly recommend it! ( )
  FancyHorse | Oct 27, 2015 |
This was an incredibly inspiring and thought provoking book.

The kindness displayed by the population of Gander to so many people who were passengers on the planes that could not enter US air space, is overwhelming. I was touched by many of the stories - Orthodox Jewish people, and the the story of the Jewish chap who had lived in Newfoundland since the War years and not told his wife he was Jewish, the lady who left complete strangers in her home to shower inviting them to rest and relax and to simply close the door when they left. The trust of the Newfoundlanders during a time filled with mistrust was amazing. Not to mention the story of the young couple bringing back to the US their adopted daughter and of course the couple whose son was a firefighter in New York. ( )
  AnglersRest | Sep 11, 2014 |
There have been many stories of heroism surrounding the events of 9/11. Jim DeFede covers a story of Gander, Newfoundland in Canada, where 38 planes were forced to land due to the closure of the U.S. air space. DeFede introduces us to the town and its people, and the extraordinary sense of community on 9/11. This is a must-read, not only to round out the experience of 9/11, but to know that there are people out there that can cancel out the horrible events of that day. ( )
  kellyhenk | Jul 6, 2014 |
reread for me. From a bookring. The story of what happened when the US Airspace closed after the terrorist attacks, with lots of planes heading for the US still in the air over the Atlantic. Gander ATC is responsible for all the air traffic crossing the Atlantic, and on 9/11 they were responsible for getting all the planes in the air down somewhere in eastern Canada. In the little town of Gander, 6000 "plane people" landed and needed shelter, food, clothing and communication to the outside. The author interviewed 179 people after the fact, and documented how well the little town mobilized and dealt with their unexpected influx of people from all different nationalities (and the pets that were in the cargo hold too). From essentials, such as getting new scrips to fill prescriptions, to food and shelter, to providing internet and communication to the outside world, Gander thought of and did everything. I was stranded away from home in Atlanta when the US airspace shut down. I personally know how much the little things, like shelter and being able to communicate with loved ones was. Wonderful that our neighbors to the North took every one in, no questions asked. ( )
  nancynova | Mar 18, 2014 |
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. This Newfoundland community lived the denominational promise of the United Methodist Church the week of 9/11. This book portrays how a small island community was able to overcome constant obstacles to wrap their arms around all of the world's suddenly homeless population in air transit on 9/11. The stories are both heartwarming and heartwrenching. Don't be surprised to feel overwhelmed, overjoyed, and perhaps deep sorrow while reading. I'f I'm ever suddenly stranded in air transit, I hope I will be one of the lucky ones to be routed to Gander. ( )
  readit2 | Sep 6, 2013 |
I absolutely loved this book about the people of the small city of Gander, Newfoundland and the surrounding area, and how they coped with the influx of thousands of airliner passengers forced to land there when US airspace was closed on 9/11.

There was so much to love about this book! Right off, Defede startled me into the realization that the US handed off some of our security nightmare to Canada, which the Canadians accepted without hesitation. After all, the fear was that there were more terrorists lurking on airplanes, right?

The book takes a look at a number of folks whose travels and lives were interrupted by the plane diversion -- including (among others) the parents of a FDNY firefighter at Ground Zero, a couple returning to the US with a newly-adopted daughter, and a US general high up in the Army intelligence community.

And then there are the "Newfies." The people of the Gander area went so far beyond allowing these people to land. They toook them to heart. They stripped their own beds so the visitors could have sheets. They invited strangers into their homes to shower, in those cases were the shelters lacked such facilities. They offered their telephones and internet connections and ears to hear sad stories. They cooked and commiserated. This book was filled with many, many heart-warming interactions between the Newfies and their guests.

And in the process of reading, I learned a lot about Newfoundland, and the history of Gander -- and why in the world so many people wound up there on 9/11.

I can't say enough good things about this book. ( )
7 vote tymfos | Sep 16, 2012 |
The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland is a book to read on a day when you just know that a good cry will make you feel so much better.

When US airspace was closed on 9/11, 43,895 people were aboard airplanes diverted to Canadian airports. Thirty-eight planes, carrying 6,595 passengers landed in Gander, Newfoundland, a town of approximately 10,000 people.

This book is the incredible story of the way in which the people of Gander responded to the events and took care of those stranded passengers and it will bring tears to your eyes.

This is a book about triumph, not tragedy. It's a wonderful read. ( )
  mysterymax | Jul 2, 2012 |
The love and giving nature of the town of Gander, Newfoundland when planes diverted from United States airspace on September 11 had to land and disembark in their small town. ( )
  debherter | Mar 17, 2012 |
This was a very interesting telling of the repercussions of the events of 9/11 on the town of Gander, Newfoundland and on the 6,595 passengers and crew which were diverted there that day. I didn't find the book all that well written, or without typos, but the stories were what stood out, and the author did a nice job of that. (3.6 stars)


On September 11, 2001, when the order was given to close air space over the United States, where did all the planes go? International flights considered the halfway point and either returned from whence they came, or proceeded on to Canada.

There were 4,546 civilian aircraft over the United States at the time, from private Cessnas to jumbo jets, and they all scrambled to find a place to land. Closing airspace had its most disorienting effect, though, on approximately four hundred international flights headed toward the United States, the majority of which were coming across the Atlantic from Europe. More than 250 aircraft, carrying 43,895 people, were diverted to fifteen Canadian airports from Vancouver in the west to St. John's in the east.

This book is about the 6,595 passengers and crew members from the 38 planes which were diverted to the central highlands of Newfoundland to an air base in Gander, a town of barely 10,000 people.

Gander International, “The lifeboat of the North Atlantic”. Every pilot who flies to the United States from Europe knows exactly where Gander is located. If there is a serious mechanical problem over the ocean or a passenger has a heart attack or goes berserk with a case of air rage, the pilot makes an emergency landing in Gander.

Facing intense security and very lengthy processing, the passengers were processed one plane at a time, and then taken by bus to local schools, churches and community buildings which had been prepared to receive them.

The relief effort was joined by every business in Gander, and by its citizens:

…...The local fast food and pizza places sent carloads of food to the airport for those stranded on the planes.

…...The telephone company set up banks of tables with phones and computers so passengers could contact their families.

…...The local cable television provider ran lines to every shelter to provide cable service so the passengers could keep up to date on news coverage.

…...Town pharmacists filled over a thousand prescriptions, at no cost, just in the first 24 hours.

…...When some passengers noticed that certain ones were not eating, it was discovered that they were Orthodox Jews, so the school set up a kosher kitchen for them to use.

…...The local Canadian Tire Store donated $20,000 of its own merchandise and then spent another $10,000 in other stores (including its chief competitor, WalMart) to provide for the passengers' needs.

…...Veterinarians and their helpers crawled through the cargo holds to tend to animals stranded there, then went through channels to get permission to remove them to a hanger, where they set up a temporary vet clinic.

…...The townspeople donated everything they had to share: toilet paper, blankets, clothing, food, and volunteered their showers and rides, to boot. They even used the ice rink to keep perishables fresh.

…...Locals made themselves available as impromptu cabbies, taking the passengers to stores or wherever they wanted to go. Hundreds of them asked to be taken to “The Silent Witness”, erected by a local group as a memorial to the 248 members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division that were killed in a 1985 airplane crash. The cover of the book pictures one view of this memorial.

Responding to the comment that everyone in Gander had been so wonderful, the wing commander for the Canadian Air Force base in Gander said, “We're all Americans tonight.”

No money was asked for or accepted. On one of the flights home, “the plane people” put their heads together and came up with the idea to provide a scholarship for the school where they stayed. (After note: Over a million dollars has been raised so far, and 134 scholarships provided.)

Among the passengers detoured to Gander were:

…...U.S. Army brigadier general Barbara Fast – director of intelligence for the United States military command.

…...George Vitale, a New York State trooper in charge of security for the governor's headquarters, which was formerly in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

…...Dennis and Hannah O'Rourke. Their son, Kevin, was a New York firefighter, and was missing.

…...Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who didn't say who he was when he asked permission to use the computers at the school where he was staying, to do some business. Before their time there was done, they had offered a donation to replace the school's computer lab.

…...Werner Baldessarini, chairman of Hugo Boss, who was sent a private jet so he could get back to business, which he canceled. He tried explaining that flying home while the others were left behind would have been an act of betrayal of everything that had happened over the last seventy-two hours. Wherever his fellow passengers went, that's where he would go. However long it took them to get home, that's how long he'd be gone. He was in this until the end.

…...Clemens Briels, a renowned Dutch artist, who was one of the official artists for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. In the school where he stayed, a discovery was afterwards made. Using various colored chalks and crayons, someone had drawn a picture depicting a human body in flight. It was at least three feet by four feet and at the bottom of the blackboard it was signed, Many Thanks, Clemens.

One hundred and twenty-six hours passed between the time the first plane landed in Gander on Tuesday and the last plane departed on Sunday. During that time, fast friendships were made. Some passengers still travel to Gander periodically to revisit their hosts. ( )
  countrylife | Oct 12, 2011 |
I haven't read any books that deal with 9/11. Though the events were ten years ago, they seem closer than that to me, and have shaped much of my adult life. I wanted to somehow commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, but I was afraid to read something that might turn dark and dismal. This story of townspeople reaching out to people whose planes were forced to land when U.S. airspace was shut down would be just the thing - true, yet uplifting. Still, especially in the beginning, when various people - pilots, air traffic controllers, the mayor of Gander - hear about or watch the planes fly into the towers, my heart starts pounding and my muscles tense. I find myself curling up tight in my chair, breathless. I didn't expect such a visceral response, or to feel instantly transported to the confusion and fear of that day, only my second week of college classes, the first class an English class from 9:30-11:15, our professor never breathing a word (did he not know?). And I remember how strange was the absence of the noise of airplanes, then the recurrence of them overhead.

There were 6,132 passengers, plus pilots and crews, on the flights diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. The townspeople could have put up a few shelters, called in the Red Cross, and called it a day. Instead, DeFede tells the stories of ordinary and extraordinary kindnesses - people giving their own towels to shelters, opening their homes, offering rides, and filling prescriptions free of charge. The stories of 6,000+ people could not fit in one book, but the stories of several are told here, often switching back and forth quickly between people keeping events in roughly chronological order through the several days Gander and the surrounding towns embraced their unexpected guests. Their stories made me laugh and cry in turn. I can't promise that I'll read any other books about 9/11, but I'm certainly not disappointed I read this one. ( )
  bell7 | Sep 26, 2011 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. On September 11, 2001, over three dozen planes landed unexpectedly in Gander, Newfoundland when American air space was closed. This is the story of how the 10,000 residents of Gander and neighbouring small towns prepared for and welcomed 6,000 shocked displaced travellers.

I found the drama of trying to divert so many planes riveting. The issues that arose in handling so many unexpected guests, and how the town leaders and RCMP responded were also fascinating: nicotene gum for smokers held on airplanes; prescriptions to fill, animals in cargo holds; Kosher meals and many more challenges all met with generosity and understanding.

The people who found themselves in Gander really did represent the world: a Nigerian princess, Beatles impersonators, CEOs, parents of a fire fighter lost in the World Trade Centre, women in burkas, parents bringing home babies adopted in Asia....the list is endless. Through it all, the Newfoundlanders welcomed people into their homes, took them sightseeing, even watched over them while they slept. It made me pround to be Canadian. ( )
  LynnB | Dec 30, 2010 |
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. ( )
8 vote sjmccreary | Jul 16, 2010 |
If I started reading a book about 9/11 and a few pages into it found that an American General, a CEO of an international clothing conglomerate, several members of the board of a wealthy charity, an NYPD detective and parents of a firefighter who is lost in the World Trade Center were stuck in a small Canadian town in the middle of Newfoundland (not to mention a long-lost native son) I would have put the book away with a chuckle and started a new one.

Nevertheless, this is not fiction and the events really happen.

Even though I really liked the book, and even recommended it to my beloved wife, there are several glaring omissions.

First and foremost for me: there is no map.
The author goes to great length to describe the geographical region as well as the Gander's street layout (which is supposed to be shaped like the head of a moose) - yet...no map?
I find this to be unbelievable.

Second, the writing seems more like a collection of articles than a finished book. That's fine and it didn't bother me that much but I thought I should mention it.

Third, it would be nice to have appendices with a chart of the flights, departure, landings at Gander International Airport, etc.

Fourth, I would have liked to see more pictures. Again, this does not take away from the book but would have been a nice addition. There are several pictures in the book but they are small and grainy (much like...a newspaper article).

Fifth, where is the tourist info for Newfoundland? Come on guys, capitalize on this book. I've been to your area (but not Gander), it is a beautiful, gorgeous part of the world and true to the book - some of the nicest people in the world live there.

However, I still this book high marks because I did thoroughly enjoyed it since it is about the people of Newfoundland and not about the big events happening around them. The only part which took away my personal enjoyment was the first bullet point I mentioned (and yes, I did google the town and found the map but I still can't "see" the moose head layout). ( )
1 vote ZoharLaor | Jan 6, 2010 |
Story of small town in Newfoundland where a whole lotta jets landed when the US shut down airports on 9/11.
  mulliner | Nov 29, 2009 |
A different perspective on the impact of 9/11 ( )
  tmstimbert | Jul 26, 2008 |
On the surface, the story is kind of hokey. On September 11th, 2001 thirty-eight planes are diverted from the United States to the airport in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. Resident Newfies suddenly have to find space for thousands of stranded passengers and respond with an outporing of volunteerism and cheerfulness. What makes this book for me is the details of what exactly is needed for supporting so many people unexpectedly and the many personal stories. I could not put this book down although often it made me want to weep. It really is that touching, even if it is not written very well. I recommend it highly, and now I want to go to Gander for a screeching-in ceremony. ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 25, 2008 |
What can I say about this book ... wow.
I cried. I laughed. It was hard to read and yet I flew through it very quickly. I started it yesterday and did not want to put it down.

For me, this is the first thing I've really read about 9/11 (or watched for that matter) since it occured. And the book took me back to some really awful moments, but yet, it offers hope and is uplifting to the spirit. ( )
  Brandie | Jan 18, 2007 |
If you want inspiration -- to feel hopeful about humankind, this is the book. ( )
  NewsieQ | Jul 26, 2006 |
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