Sunday, January 26, 2014

The kindness of Canadians

I am impressed by the kindness of Canadians. In addition to this inspiring story sent by Sister Regine Isaacs RSM, I recall the perseverance of Canadian human rights activists in proving the innocence of American boxer Rubin 'The Hurricane' Carter,  and the risks they took in protecting Americans as shown in the movie 'Argo'.

God bless them ... and their American friends who showed such tangible appreciation!
Jerry Brown Delta Flight 15... (true story)
Here is an  amazing story from a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15, written following  9-11-01:
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were about 5  hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic.
All of a  sudden the curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately,  to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that  "All Business" look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message.  It was from  Delta's main office in Atlanta and simply read, "All airways over  the  Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP  at the nearest airport. Advise your destination."
No one said a word  about what this could mean. We knew it was a serious situation and we needed  to find terra firma quickly. The  captain determined that the nearest airport  was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland.
He requested  approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval  was granted immediately -- no  questions asked.
We found out later, of course, why there was no hesitation in
approving  our request.
While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in  about the hijackings.
We decided to LIE to the passengers while we were still in the air. We told them the plane had a simple instrument problem  and  that we needed to land at the nearest airport in Gander, Newfoundland,  to have it checked out.
We promised to give more information after landing in Gander. There was much grumbling among the passengers, but that's nothing new!
Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander. Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM! .... that's 11:00 AM EST.
There were already  about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their to the  U.S.
After we parked on the ramp, the captain made the following announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, you must  be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument  problem as we have.
The reality is that we are here for another reason." Then  he went on to explain the little bit we knew about the situation in the U.S. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief.
The captain  informed passengers that Ground control in Gander told us to stay  put. The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one  was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come  near any of the aircrafts. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane.  In the next hour  or so more planes landed and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were U.S.  commercial jets.
Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned  that airplanes were flown  into the
World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in DC.  People were trying to use their cell phones, but were unable to connect due to a different cell system in Canada. Some did get through, but  were only able to get to the Canadian operator who would tell  them that the lines to the U.S. were either blocked or  jammed.
Sometime in the evening the news filtered to us that the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking  had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm. We had only to look out the window at the 52 other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in  this predicament.
We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time. At 6 PM, Gander airport told us  that our turn to deplane would be 11 am the next morning. Passengers were not happy, but they simply resigned themselves to this news  without much noise and started to prepare themselves to spend the night on the airplane.
Gander had promised us medical attention, if needed, water, and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word.
Fortunately we had no medical situations to worry about. We did  have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good  care of her. The night passed without incident despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.
About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy  of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.
After that we (the crew) were separated from the passengers and were taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers were going. We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into
Gander! We were told to just relax at the hotel and we would be contacted when the U.S. airports opened again, but not to expect that call for a while.
We found out the total scope of the terror back home only. after getting to our hotel and turning on the TV, 24 hours after it all started.
Meanwhile, we had lots of time on our hands and found that the people of Gander were extremely friendly. They started calling us the "plane people." We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander and ended up having a pretty good time.
Two days later, we  got that call and were taken back to the Gander airport. Back on the plane, we were reunited with the  passengers and found out what they had been doing  for the past two days.
What we found out was incredible. Gander and  all the surrounding communities (within MATCH about a 75 Kilometre radius)  had closed all high schools, meeting halls,
lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travellers.
Some had cots set up, some had mats with  sleeping bags and pillows set up.
ALL the high school students were  required to volunteer their time to take care of the "guests." Our 218  passengers ended up in  a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from  Gander where they were put up in a high school. If any women wanted to  be in a women-only  facility, that was arranged. Families were kept together.  All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes.
Remember that  young pregnant lady? She was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour Urgent Care facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration.
Phone  calls and e-mails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were  offered "Excursion" trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbours. Some went for hikes in  the local forests. Local  bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests.
Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to  the schools.  People were driven to restaurants of their choice and  offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.
Passengers were crying while telling us these stories. Finally,
when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing
or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they  needed
to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated  everything beautifully.
It was absolutely incredible.
When  passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise.  Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping  stories of their stay,  impressing each other with who had the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The  crew just stayed out of  their way. It was mind-boggling.
Passengers had totally bonded and were  calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses,  and email addresses.
And then a very unusual thing happened.
One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make  an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this  time was different. I said "of course" and handed him the  mike.
He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had  received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by
saying that he  would like to do something in return for the good  folks of Lewisporte.
"He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name  of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to  provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte.
He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts,  names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!
"The gentleman, a MD from Virginia, promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship.  He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and  ask them to donate as well.
As I write this account, the trust fund is at more  than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education.
"I just wanted to share this story because we need good. stories right now. It gives me a little bit of hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them.
It reminds me how much good there is in the  world."
"In spite of all the rotten things we see going on in today's world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good and  Godly people in the world and when things get bad, they will come forward.
"God Bless America... and God Bless the  Canadians."

Sent from my BlackBerry® device from Digicel

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