(September 20, 2001, Gazette)

Photos by David Cantwell and David Sorensen

Planes crowd the tarmac at St. Jon's airport

Planes crowd the tarmac at St. John's airport.

Those stranded at Memorial had lots to say about the events in the United States and their treatment here in Canada. Gazette correspondent collected the following comments from some of the waylaid travellers.

Paul, from the Netherlands, who was on his way to Las Vegas spoke to the Gazette about his treatment in Newfoundland: “Couldn’t be better, because they are very helpful to all of us — I am very grateful for that.”

Volunteers at the help centre ease concern.Volunteers at the help centre ease concern.

Gail and Claudia from Charlotte, USA, on their reception in Newfoundland: “It’s been absolutely wonderful. We are very fortunate to be here in Canada and here (in Newfoundland) . . . we don’t want to leave you, but we want to go home.”

Commenting on being stuck in the plane at St. John’s International Airport: “The crew was very friendly. We were very comfortable, considering. Antsy, you know, because you wanted to get up, get off, walk around. They showed lots of movies, probably every movie they had on that airline.”

How they first learned about the terrorist attacks in the USA: “Actually one of the guys called his wife from the air . . . and got some information. We didn’t share that with everybody. Our captain told us that all the airports were shut down in America and that told us something really big was going on. He was very comforting, he was up frequently talking to us. If we had information, he didn’t deny it, but he didn’t elaborate on it. At first we wished he could give us more information, but I think that we can understand: there were people from New York (on the flight) . . . they were afraid pandemonium would break out.”

Tepilit from Tanzania, who was heading to Chicago for a conference had this to say about Canadians: “Here, Canadians have been very nice to us. Very generous in every aspect, they went all out. Had they not been there, it would have been very hard for us. The human element has been extended beyond belief — it is hard to put in words. This human diplomacy . . . refreshed our minds and souls. I think that any person who has experienced the Canadian warmness and generosity will always remember.”

Phone calls to home were a priority for passengers.Phone calls to home were a priority for passengers.

Bruce, from Stockton, USA, voiced these concerns about where the world is to go next: “There are a lot of questions in my own mind as to where is mankind going — do you destroy a whole population for a terrorist attack?”

Complimenting the volunteer effort for the travellers at Memorial: “This has been a fantastic experience, under the circumstances. . . . everyone has been pleasant and helpful. I don’t know what would happen in my city, but the volunteers have been fantastic. In a matter of hours we had food, water, soft drinks and smiles. I can’t say enough about St. John’s and the hospitality that has been extended to us by the students and the university and the police department.”

On how the pilot handled the news of the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania: “The first report that the captain gave us was that there had been a breakdown in the air-traffic control system. So, that was like a Y2K incident to me. So I wasn’t too alarmed. Then I heard what happened and I kind of went numb. It really didn’t hit me until the second day as far as the real meaning of what had happened: that we were now in a global war against terrorism.”

Bernardina, from the Netherlands, did not allow the events in the USA to deter her and was eager to complete her travel plans: “I would like to fly on to Oregon to see my sister.”

A birthday cake for a stranded passenger.A birthday cake for a stranded passenger.

Anne Lise, from France, but now living in Alabama, reflecting on the disaster: “It’s tragic. I was particularly touched by the Pentagon because my husband is in the military. Although I knew he was safe, because we do not live in Washington, some people that we know who work in the Pentagon might not be. All the people we could think of we called, and they were fine.”

Speaking about how the pilot and cabin crew dealt with passing news along to the passengers: “I think that they were very good. Initially they just said that we have to land, our plane is OK, we’re OK, as soon as I know more we will let you know. I initially thought that it might be weather-related, maybe summer storms over New York. Then they said that the airspace is closed, and at that point I thought that there must have been a terrorist attack somewhere.”

On her treatment while stranded on the airport’s tarmac: “We stayed in the plane for 11 hours, which was great because they fed us, they watered us, they entertained us with movies. That was the best place we could have been at that point, because we were seated, people could sleep.”

Regarding whether she would be allowed into the US as a non-US national: “I’m a permanent resident, which is as good as a citizen. And I can tell you, that if they don’t let me in, my husband is going to raise hell!”

Referring to the treatment of the stranded passengers: “Newfoundlanders are wonderful. Everything is so well-organized. I was actually describing to my husband on the phone some of the things that were organized and he said that it’s like a resort!”

One of many briefings for patient travellers.One of many briefings for patient travellers.

Moussa, from Senegal, was headed to Atlanta, USA. He commented on the emergency procedures followed on his flight: “Safety first: if we had to land because of safety, that was all good. Then later we heard about the situation (in New York).”

Speaking about St. John’s: “This is very nice here, people are really friendly. Clean city, people have an open mind. Definitely we have to come back and visit.”

Lars, from Sweden, going to Lima, Peru, was enjoying his unexpected Newfoundland vacation: “For the time being I don’t have many concerns. I have time because I have a pension. It has been very, very, very pleasant — I must point that out. I have spoken with a lot of (other) passengers and they are really amazed with how nice people are. It seems that people are not used to being so well treated.”

Passengers are bussed out on their way home.Passengers are bussed out on their way home.

Socie, a professor of medicine from Paris, France, was heading to Seattle, USA, and told the Gazette about how he learned of the terrorist attacks in the USA: “In fact, I had the information before my colleagues (because of a health emergency on the aircraft) . . . They (the flight crew) told me the story (of what was happening in the USA) and told me that we would be landing in St. John’s.”

Regarding the promptness and organization of the volunteer response: “It is probably one of the most impressive things I have seen in my life".

Regarding loved ones back in Europe: “The main problem is that our families in Europe seem to be highly nervous about the situation — we phoned home to tell them that we are OK. When we will be back is another matter.”

His thoughts on the U.S. reaction to the atrocities: “Probably the United States will never accept what happened. They will react, and maybe too much — I don’t know.”

Hans and Wilma, from the Netherlands, said they knew little about what was happening in the U.S.A.: “The information we got was very brief, very short.”

Because of a bomb threat against their plane, they had some hectic moments: “We had to leave the plane immediately, because there had been a bomb threat. We didn’t know at that time. One of the passengers made a phone call to Holland, and from that we heard what was happening in New York, but we had no idea that there had been a bomb threat against us. When we got here, we read that in the papers.”

On Canadian hospitality: “We are most impressed by the hospitality of you people. Canada was on our list to visit one day, I guess that we will definitely come back. The hospitality is a miracle to us — we are feeling so welcome.”