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Stranded In Gander On September 11th: 20 Years Later

Courtesy Rose Reyes
Planes parked at Gander Airport on Sept. 11, 2001.

TPR's Jerry Clayton spoke with Rose Reyes, who was returning to the U.S. from France on 9/11 and was stranded for 5 days.

Jerry Clayton: When the US was attacked on 9/11, airspace over the country was completely shut down. Thirty eight aircraft headed for the United States from Europe were diverted to the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland. Almost 7000 passengers and crew were stranded there, doubling the town's population for several days. Stories of the so-called plane people and the outpouring of love and hospitality from the people of Gander have endured and even inspired a musical called Come from Away. Rose Reyes of San Antonio was on an American Airlines flight that landed in Gander. She joins us today. Thanks for being here, Rose.

Rose Reyes: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here. It's fun to think back and reminisce from 20 years ago

Clayton: On the flight home. What was the first indication you had that something was wrong?

Reyes: We were watching a movie, and next thing we knew, our pilot said due to a crisis in the United States, we will be landing in Gander, Newfoundland. And everybody was just sort of stunned. And then they said that all airspace into the United States had been closed. And that seemed so severe. And we knew that something very serious had happened. They didn't want to tell us because they didn't really... It was an American Airlines flight that I was on... And they didn't know who was on our flight. All flights were suspect. They were not sharing any details of what had happened. It wasn't until hours, hours after we actually landed in Gander that we started learning little bits and pieces about what had happened in the United States.

Clayton: What kind of process was it getting off the plane? Where were you stuck on the airplane for a long time?

Reyes: We were we were on the tarmac for over twenty five hours, not being able to leave the plane and also just looking out the window of the airplane and seeing the parking lot of airplanes. It was like 30 or 40 airplanes that we could see were just parked there like us. They didn't have a place to put us. They didn't know how to transport us. They didn't have hotels. Their school bus drivers were on strike, just coincidentally, and they were trying to negotiate with their bus drivers so they could just bus us to high schools. And our our whole flight went to a Knights of Columbus Hall, and that's where we ended up staying for five days without our luggage and sort of wondering what was going on in the world.

Courtesy Rose Reyes
Busses lined up to transport passengers from Gander Airport

Clayton: What was your impression of the people of Gander?

Reyes: They took us into their homes. They provided a lot of not only just sort of shelter for us, but also just a lot of love and support, because there was a lot of fear about what was going on in our country and in the world. And they were incredibly warm and supportive.

Clayton: When you look back during that period, what's the most lasting impression that you have from that time you spent in Gander?

Reyes: For me personally, I was celebrating my fortieth birthday and they found out that I was actually celebrating it on September the 13th. That was my birthday. And we were stuck there in the Knights of Columbus Hall and they secretly organized an incredible party for my birthday for all two hundred and fifty passengers of our plane that were staying at the Knights of Columbus Hall with live music, traditional food, and just really made a really sweet moment in in a very scary, scary time in our lives.

Clayton: Rose Reyes, thanks so much for being here and sharing your story.  

Reyes: Of course. Thank you so much.

Clayton: Rose Reyes is the president of Giant Noise Public Relations in San Antonio. Rose says she was able to see the musical “Come From Away” on Broadway in New York City and got to meet the cast backstage.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.