“Come From Aways” Share Their Experiences in Newfoundland

The Broadway-bound musical Come From Away tells the stories of the townspeople of Gander, Newfoundland, and the unexpected 6,579 airline passengers who waited in the Canadian town for American airspace to reopen after September 11, 2001. Below, three “come from aways” share their experiences in the following post.

38 Planes

Halfway across the Atlantic Ocean on a Delta flight heading from London to D.C., on September 11, 2001, Richard Ross and his boyfriend Bob Beard heard their airline captain’s voice over the intercom, “Something awful has happened in the United States and we can no longer land there.”

Ross and Beard remember the vague announcement by the pilot and crew that shocked and frightened everyone on the plane. They were told that they would land in Newfoundland.

Planes on the runway in Gambo, Newfoundland on 9/11. Photo courtesy Bob Beard and Richard Ross.Meanwhile, Kate Field was flying home to New York City from a textile show in Belgium. With her flight half full, Field lay down to sleep and awoke to a stewardess brusquely telling her to fasten her seat belt. Field remembers talk of “World War III” by the airline crew, and beginning to cry because she thought the plane would crash. From her window, Field saw only ocean until a few seconds before her plane landed around 11:00 a.m. Passengers were told they had arrived in Gander, Newfoundland, but were not allowed to depart the plane until after it was dark.

Similarly, Ross, Beard and their fellow passengers spent the entire day on the plane drinking water and snacking on candy bars after the airline’s supply of food ran out.

Welcome to the Rock

After getting off of their planes, passengers were transported by local residents to different towns in the region.

With only their carry-ons in hand, Ross, Beard and other passengers were transported to Gambo, Newfoundland, a town 30 miles from Gander. It wasn’t until they arrived at their shelter at St. George’s Anglican Church that they learned about the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, and about the plane that had crashed in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania. Passengers crowded around a small black and white TV to watch the latest updates as dozens of army cots were set up close together in the hallway.

Fellow passengers of Beard and Ross on a school bus. Photo courtesy Bob Beard and Richard Ross.

Field and fellow passengers arrived at a hockey stadium where they watched the footage of the 9/11 attacks on a jumbotron.

“It was so surreal because there was no sound, just the images, over and over again,” Field said. “People were very quiet, just watching the screen.”

Wherever We Are

During the passengers’ three-day stay, the local townspeople welcomed and provided all with shipments including fresh underwear, three hot meals each day and invitations to their homes to use their bathrooms.

“They never even thought they were doing anything special for us. For them, it was just a natural response,” Ross said. “We will never forget the love and care we received from that community.”

On the second day, with no information on their flights, some of the passengers considered the “eerily possible” idea of staying in the sparse town to help double the population if they could not return home soon, Ross said. Then on the third day, Ross and Beard were given notice that their flight would leave that afternoon.

    Local women from the church preparing hot meals. Photo courtesy Bob Beard and Richard Ross.

In Field’s case, passengers were taken to a local church that became their “central gathering hub.” She had trouble sleeping that night, worrying about the safety of her mother, her boyfriend in D.C. and her father, who was also traveling on September 11. By the third night, Field and a fellow passenger she befriended accepted an invitation from a family to stay at their home.

Stop the World 

When reflecting on their time displaced during the week, Beard, Ross and Field remember the generosity and care they received from the townspeople.

“The Canadians were the most gracious, welcoming people,” Field said. “People had come out in droves to take care of us and to entertain us.”

Irene Sankoff, David Hein, Kevin Tuerff, Diane and Nick Marson and Beverley Bass at Ford's Theatre.

“The innate goodness of people helping other people in emergencies is a wonderful thing to actually experience,” Ross said.

These same sentiments are found in the stories the creators of Come From Away heard when writing the show.

Catherine Moran is a student at The George Washington University where she is studying journalism and mass communication. An avid lover of theatre and writing, she is the Communications and Marketing Intern at Ford’s Theatre for the fall.