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


Jim DeFede

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede is an inspirational book that will leave you feeling all that is good and right in the world. As the title implies, the book recounts the air traffic redirections on 9/11, when 38 planes carrying over 6,000 passengers and 470 crew members were instructed to land in Gander, Newfoundland.

Gander, Newfoundland has long served as a pitstop for planes traveling across the Atlantic Ocean. For many years, planes were forced to stop in Gander as they did not have the fuel capacity to make it across the Atlantic. Once larger aircraft were manufactured, Gander was no longer needed as a refueling station. The city did, however, remain heavily involved in air traffic control.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the US Department of Transportation ordered all airborne aircraft to land immediately and those planes that were not in the air remained grounded. US airspace was closed for several days.

The Day the World Came to Town tells the story of how the tiny town of Gander jumped into action realizing that they were going to become a landing destination. Not only did the local air traffic controller team anticipate the onslaught of aircraft, the team also realized that, with US airspace shutdown, the passengers and crews would need somewhere to sleep, shower and eat.

The people of Gander stepped into action. They opened their schools, churches, clubs, and homes to the visitors. They prepared food and gave away their towels, sheets, and other linens as well as clothing – anything they could do to help out.

The local retailers chipped in as well. Anything the visitors needed was provided – for free. Clothing, blankets, medication, diapers – even drinks at the bar – all for free. Two women realized that pets were in the planes baggage compartments and crawled into each one to feed the animals until they were allowed to get them out and keep them in a hanger where a veterinarian provided services for free. Neighboring towns helped out by filling in the void when Gander ran out of stock.

What was most touching, was that the townspeople of Gander went out of their way to minimize the visitor’s stress. For example, they brought toys to the children and celebrated their birthdays. They ensured that dietary restrictions were addressed. They prayed with and held the hands of the visitors who were fearful that they lost loved ones.

After the visitors left, the Canadian Government wanted to host a party to honor the townspeople of Gander for their hospitality and generosity. The townspeople politely declined. They weren’t heroes, they were just doing what anyone should do in this situation.

I was in New York City just one block from the World Trade Center on 9/11. The party I was with was going to try to make its way back to Louisville but I wanted to go home to Pittsburgh so we parted company. I walked in silence to Times Square where a colleague of my husband’s opened up her hotel room to share with me until we could find transportation back to Pennsylvania. I will never forget that she greeted me in the lobby with a big hug. When we got to her room, we looked out the window and saw the second tower collapse. I will never forget that image and I will never forget Lucy’s generosity over the next few days.

Those feelings came flooding back to me when I read The Day the World Came to Town. We live in a world full of challenges and unrest, but every once in a while, the human spirit and kindness emerge and prove that we can live together respectfully and peacefully. I highly recommend this book so that we never forget the horrid events of 9/11 along with the outpouring of kindness from our fellow humans. And hats off to the people of Gander, Newfoundland for showing the world what fellowship and leadership really mean.