Sunday, September 11, 2011

Commemorating Cooperation and Compassion: 9/11, Beyond Borders

As the U.S. honours loved ones lost on this date ten years ago, I keep close to my heart heroes on both sides of the 49th parallel. An except from AMHL Glory:

Presidents and prime ministers will come and go, so I’m talking about the residual, ordinary citizens in the U.S. and Canada who’ve done extraordinary things to extend goodwill beyond geographical borders.

During the horrors of September 11, 2001, the bravery of New York’s Fire Department, Police Department (and the less publicized Port Authority) is well-known, and should be; we know of the pluck of the passengers of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania; and we recall the image of a smoldering Pentagon. The carnage: 2973 dead (including twenty-four Canadians) and twenty-four missing.

But you may not realize the importance of the international cooperation between the Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf on that terrible Tuesday and the days beyond.

When the U.S. ordered all its flights that morning to land, Canada rose to the challenge.

NAV Canada, a private corporation that owns Canada’s civil air navigation, reports on its Web site that it was responsible for diverting 239 flights, most of which were en route to U.S. destinations, to Canadian airports. From St. John’s (Newfoundland) to Vancouver (BC) to Whitehorse (Yukon), Canada came to the rescue of some 33,000 passengers. In Gander, Newfoundland, about 40 landed without incident.

Where do you house, feed, and comfort more than 6,000 distressed, confused, and hungry passengers? Gander, population 9,651 and nearby communities like Lewisporte, that’s where.

Nazim-Amin, a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15, said that after landing in Gander without incident, passengers and crew spent nearly the next eleven hours on the plane, unsuccessfully trying to reach loved ones on their mobile phones because their communications providers didn’t have towers in Canada (or if they did, the phone lines to the U.S. were too jammed to reach anyone). Sleeping as comfortably as one can on a jumbo jet, everyone, including a thirty-three-week pregnant woman, waited for their turn to disembark.

And when they did, the kind-hearted souls of central Newfoundland, blanketed these passengers with more compassion in days beyond the initial tragedy. Returning to the States would take several days.

And the grateful passengers and crew, many from Atlanta, GA, responded in kind by creating the Flight 15 Scholarship Fund for their new-found friends in Lewisporte.

Love transcends borders, eh?

Thank you, Delta Flight 15 passengers and crew. Thank you, Newfoundland and Labrador. Thank you, Canada.
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