This story, which is
making the rounds of the internet, seems too good to be true. But Snopes.Com,
that ever-so-reliable source for urban legends, documents its
The story of Delta Flight 15, as told by a crew member
We were five hours out of Frankfurt, flying over
the North Atlantic. I was in my crew rest seat taking a scheduled
break. All of a sudden, the curtains parted violently and I was told
to go to the cockpit, right now, to see the captain. When I got
there I saw that the crew had “All Business” looks on their
faces. The captain handed me a printed message.
The message was from Atlanta, addressed to our
flight, and simply said, “All airways over the Continental US are
closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”
When a dispatcher tells you to land immediately
without suggesting which airport, you assume that the dispatcher has
reluctantly given up control of the flight to the captain. We knew
it was a serious situation and we needed to find terra firma
quickly. The nearest airport was 400 miles away, behind our right
shoulder, in Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request
was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a right turn,
directly to Gander, was approved immediately. We found out later why
there was no hesitation by the Canadian controller.
We, the in-flight crew, were told to get the
airplane ready for an immediate landing. Meanwhile, another message
arrived from Atlanta, telling us about some terrorist activity in
the New York area. We briefed the in-flight crew about going to
Gander and went about our business, “closing down’” the
airplane for a landing. A few minutes later, I went back to the
cockpit to find that some airplanes had been hijacked and were being
flown into buildings all over the US.
We decided to make an announcement and LIE to the
passengers. We told them that an instrument problem had arisen and
that we needed to land at Gander to have it checked. We promised to
give more information after landing. There were many unhappy
passengers, but that is par for the course.
We landed in Gander about 40 minutes later. There
were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground, from all over
the world. 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. But the reality is that we are here for a good
reason.” Then he went on to explain the little bit we knew about
the situation in the US. There were loud gasps and stares of
Local time at Gander was 12:30 pm (11:00 am EST).
Gander control told us to stay put. No one was allowed to get off
the aircraft. No one on the ground could come near. Only a car from
the airport police would come around once in a while, look us over,
and go on to the next airplane. In the next hour or so all the
airways over the North Atlantic were vacated. Gander alone ended up
with 53 airplanes from all over the world, out of which 27 flew US
We were told that the planes were to be offloaded
one at a time, with the foreign carriers given priority. We were No.
14 in the US category. We were further told that we would be given a
tentative time to deplane at 6:00 pm.
Meanwhile bits of news started to come in over the
aircraft radio. For the first time we learned that airplanes had
been flown into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon. People
were trying to use their cell phones but were unable to connect
because of 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 US were either blocked or jammed and to
try again. Some time late 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
totally bewildered and emotionally exhausted, but they stayed calm
as we kept reminding them that we were not the only ones in this
predicament. There were 52 other planes with people on them in the
We also told them that the Canadian Government was
in charge. True to their word, at 6:00 pm Gander airport told us
that our turn to deplane would come at 11:00 the next morning. That
took the last wind out of the passengers. They accepted this news
without much noise and started to get into a mode of spending the
night on the airplane.
Gander had promised us any and all medical
attention if needed: medicine, water, and lavatory servicing. And
they were true to their word. Fortunately, we had no medical
situation during the night. We did have a young lady who was 33
weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of her.
The night passed without further complications on
our airplane, despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. About
10:30 on the morning of the 12th we were told to get ready to leave
the aircraft. A convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the
airplane. The stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken
to the terminal for “processing.” We, the crew, were taken to
the same terminal but were told to go to a different section, where
we were processed through Immigration and Customs and registered
with the Red Cross. After that we were isolated from our passengers
and taken in a caravan of vans to a very small hotel in the town of
Gander. We had no idea where our passengers were going.
Gander has a population of 10,400. The Red Cross
told us that they were going to process about 10,500 passengers from
all the airplanes that were forced into Gander. We were told to
relax at the hotel and wait for a call to go back to the airport,
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
enjoyed ourselves, going around town discovering things and enjoying
the hospitality. The people were friendly, even though they knew
only that we were the “plane people.”
We had a great time until we got that call, two
days later, on the 14th at 7:00 am. We made it to the airport by
8:30 am and left for Atlanta at 12:30 pm, arriving in Atlanta at
about 4:30 pm. (Gander is 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of EST!)
But that’s not what I wanted to tell you. It was
what the passengers told us that was so uplifting and incredible. We
found out that Gander and the surrounding small communities within a
75-kilometer radius had closed all the high schools, meeting halls,
lodges, and other large gathering places. They converted all these
facilities to a mass lodging area. Some had cots set up. Some had
mats with sleeping bags and pillows. ALL the high school students
HAD to volunteer to take care of the “GUESTS.”
Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called
Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander. There 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 the
pregnant lady? She went to a private home right across the street
from a 24-hour urgent-care–type facility. There were doctors on
call, and both male and female nurses stayed with the crowd for the
Phone calls and emails to the US and Europe were
available for everyone once a day. During the days, they were given
a choice of “excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises
of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see the local forests.
Bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread. Food was prepared by all
the residents and brought to the school for those who elected to
stay put. Others were driven to the eatery of their choice and fed.
They were given tokens to go to the local laundromat to wash their
clothes, since their luggage was still on the aircraft.
In other words, every single need was met for
those unfortunate travelers. Passengers were crying while telling us
After all that, they were delivered to the airport
right on time and without a single one missing or late. All because
the local Red Cross had all the information about the goings-on back
at Gander and knew which group needed to leave for the airport at
what time. Absolutely incredible.
When the passengers came on board, it was like
they’d been on a cruise. Everybody knew everybody else by name.
They swapped stories of their stay, impressing each other with who
had the better time.
We simply stayed out of their way. The passengers
had totally bonded. They were calling each other by their first
names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. And
then a strange thing happened. One of our business class passengers
asked if he could speak over the PA. We never, never allow that. But
something told me to get out of his way. I said, “Of course.”
The gentleman picked up the PA and reminded
everyone about what they had just gone through. He reminded them of
the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers.
He added that he would like to do something in return. He said he
was going to set up a trust fund under the name of Delta 15 (our
flight number). The purpose of the fund is to provide a scholarship
for high school student(s) of Lewisporte to help them go to college.
He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers.
When the list of donations got back to us with the
amounts, names, phone numbers, and addresses, it totaled $14,500, or
about $20,000 Canadian.
The gentleman who started all this turned out to
be an MD from Virginia. He 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
Why? Just because some people in faraway places
were kind to some strangers, who happened to literally drop in among