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9/11 Trip Report

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Some of you may know that I was a 9/11 passenger who got diverted on that fateful day and spent around 5 days cooped up in Newfoundland shortening my 10 day vacation somewhat.

We were about 4-5 hours into our flight from Gatwick to Pittsburgh when the captain announced that we were putting down in Gander to suck up some fuel, those were his words. I was slightly baffled as to why they didn't gas up fully before we left but hey ho who am I to wonder why.

Shortly after the captain strolled through the cabin speaking to everyone, answering questions but still sticking to his line of we are only filling up and we will be on our way again. I can see now that this was so he could have a closer look at all his passengers.

We landed just as it was getting dark and it was foggy so we couldn't see much outside. Once we were on the ground we were told to sit tight until told we could get up and walk about. There was no food left apart from snacks like peanuts but we still had water. The skipper then told us we would probably be spending the night here due to technical problems but could be back in the air sooner so just sit tight and be ready to take off anytime.

Many people took out their mobiles including me and found that the did not work, either we were in a bad reception area or something else was going on.

Eventually one lady produced a small radio and we then found out what had happened.

All during the night there were police lights flashing through the mist and we were resupplied with snacks and water and allowed to stretch our legs in the cabin, use the toilet etc.

It was an uncomfortable nights sleep but the next morning the sun was out and we could see plenty of other aircraft on the ground and police cars going from one to another, we had to stay put until about mid day when we were put on yellow school buses 50 at a time and driven to a very small airport building. It turned out not to be Gander but Stephenville on the other side of the island. Stephenville airport is a former cold war bomber base, it has massive runways which are mysteriously well maintained even though the commercial airport operation is tiny as the town only has a population of around 1000.

As we descended the steps to get to the bus we were all filmed and photographed then taken to the airport building to be processed, I found a smoking room which was packed to the rafters but I had a couple of smokes to try to calm me down a bit.

Once the questioning and details were taken we were then put on the buses again for a couple of hours drive and sent to Camp of the Silver Birches, a Salvation Army kids summer camp, tiny bunk beds, showers etc. We were then fed for the first time in about 24 hours with a hot meal and given some speeches about what went down. We all had free use of a satellite cellphone to let loved ones know we were alright and a tv satellite system was installed in the meeting hall and we got to see for the first time the shocking images of what had happened.

We were told we could not leave the camp and besides it was dangerous at night due to bears being numerous in the area. I asked if I could borrow some fishing tackle to while away the hours as the camp was on the shore of the Humber river and it is reputed to be a great salmon spot but sadly there was none available.

I teamed up with a couple of like minded lads and got a fire going, dragged some logs over and we all broke out our duty free booze and got a party going, pretty soon there were 50 or more people and the booze was running out fast.

We were told there was some local folk group giving a concert to keep us entertained that evening, someone asked if there was any beer on sale but we were told that the Sally army frowned upon alcohol so that was the trigger for us band of merry men to form the Camp of the Silver birches escape committee and as soon as it was dark we slipped out one by one through the bushes avoiding the sentry at the barrier over the entrance to the camp.

Well we had no idea which direction to go so we all agreed to go right and see if we could find civilisation somewhere, after a walk of about 5 miles in the pitch black and I mean black with only the stars in the sky, we spotted some lights in the distance and broke into a trot. We came upon a truckstop cum diner/bar and as we entered, it seemed like we weren't the only ones that needed a drink off that flight. None of us had any Canadian money but they readily took USD at the same rate ie a can of beer was 6CDN so it was 6USD lol happily though they had a credit card machine so we lodged our cards with the bartender and hit the booze. By around midnight they wanted to close so we bought bottles of wine and vodka to take back and settled up.

The lady who owned the place asked us how we were getting back, same way as we came I said, walk it. She said no way you can't there's bears and wolves out there, I'll give your a ride back, so we all piled into her truck and she dropped us off at the gate to the camp. As we wondered through trying to hide our booze the cop on the barrier just shook his head in amazement.

We headed back to the campfire on the banks of the river and had a few more drinks, eventually there was just me and a lad called Keith left, he's a Brit living in Kansas City Missouri. Keith said hey look it's getting light already, I said no way it's only 4am and it doesn't get light that eary up here. As we looked across the river there was a ribbon of light behind a range of hills and within minutes like a giant set of curtains the light dropped down from the sky, we were seeing the Aurora Borealis close up, it was pretty spectacular.

The rest of the stay was pretty uneventful though we did manage to coerce a local into resupplying us with booze on a daily basis, at inflated prices of course.

Eventually we were take away and put in a church to spend the day and half the night waiting to embark and continue our journey, at one point the buses turned up and they said women and children under the age of 14 to go first, there was a near riot as the rumour spread fast that it was for strip searches so everyone sat down and refused to get on the buses which then disappeared, Keith and I snagged a local and asked him if there was a bar nearby, as luck would have it there was so we ambled off down the road with the intention of keeping an eye out for the returning buses. The first we knew was when one of them stopped outside and a copper came into the bar asking for us by name, the bar was rammed with folks from all the other flights that were brought in to land there and they were also waiting to leave.

After much more searching, processing and queuing up at the airport I got pissed off and sniffed out another bar and demolished the Jack Daniels they had left, I was happy to go and wait in the queue after that and I think I was the last passenger to embark.

I didn't take a lot of pictures, I wish I had and I also wish I had uploaded more but this was back in 2001 and online photography was in it's infancy. Here are a few pictures I managed to keep.

1418551319_01227807ec_z.jpgAirport2 by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433588_fd461a63b6_z.jpgStephenville Airport by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433314_a0cbaf1057_z.jpgcamp4 by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433630_16ad64ed5d_z.jpgcamp3 by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433494_68c77238cc_z.jpgcamp2 by witchmellor, on Flickr

1418551593_cd227e0f9d_z.jpgrock by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433390_4306f26ecd_z.jpgCamp1 by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433752_ddb922bd80_z.jpgclub by witchmellor, on Flickr

1419433264_c5cff98871_z.jpgchurch by witchmellor, on Flickr

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you mean the day the usa blew up its own twin towers ?

yeah that day :)

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Guest

Very good story Plaka. In the photo you look about 5ft tall or were the others nearly 7ft.

No mate I am a smidgeon over 5ft, only BM Alex is taller than me :D

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No mate I am a smidgeon over 5ft, only BM Alex is taller than me :D

I wouldn't put a bet on that - I always wear Elevator Shoes :w00t:

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Cracking story Plaka and I swear that's Motormouth of the far right as you look at your group photo ?

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Great tale, I started off thinking it was a cut and paste jobby, then the photos at the end made me gobsmacked that it really was your own story, fantastic stuff, I know a guy also that was held hostage on a British Airways plane in Iraq by Saddam at the start of the first Gulf War, always enjoy listening to and reading stuff like that.

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Guest Mr Pastry

That must have been a weird experience, especially not knowing what had happened, but knowing that something was very wrong. Maybe not a great experience at the time, but you were part of something much bigger, Great report and really interesting.

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Great story and is actually a good reflection of your personality :fun::fun::fun:

Yeah, he's obviously a pisshead, LOL

Kidding of course. He knows how to find a good time.

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Great story of an eventful day unfolding for you Phil. Finding out the truth behind the diversion must have been surreal.

I was on a plane from Stockholm to Heathrow at the time and we were getting word from the stewardesses that an event had happened in NewYork. Thankfully we were able to land in London without incident and just watched the TVs in the lounges unfolding the story. Unreal

Was aware that the flight paths in London were confined to west east landings only and London became a no fly zone for a while.

Having a Gander takes on a whole new meaning for you Phil.

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