On Sept. 11, 2001, American Airlines Capt. Beverley Bass was flying a routine trip from Paris to Dallas.
As she was flying over the middle of the north Atlantic, she got word that one of the Twin Towers was hit. Then 20 minutes later, the other was hit.
“In the beginning, like a lot of people, we just thought it was a light airplane,” Bass says. “And not that that’s not terrible, but it never entered our minds that it was an airline of any kind. And then when we heard the word terrorism. … Honestly, I didn’t even know what terrorism meant. I thought it was something that happened in the Middle East. And back then, it kind of was that.”
Soon, the U.S. airspace closed and Bass was ordered to divert the plane to Gander, Newfoundland. “As airline pilots, we don’t really get orders,” Bass says.
Bass asked the flight attendants if they were OK with the announcement she was about to make. While she is behind a locked door, the flight attendants aren’t, so she didn’t want to say anything that would put them in harm’s way.
“I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Bass. There’s been a crisis in the United States and we’re going to be diverting the airplane to Gander, Newfoundland. When we get on the ground, I’ll get back to you with any new information that we’re aware of.’”
Bass landed the plane in Gander, which at the time had a population of about 9,400 people. Bass’ flight and the 38 other planes — altogether 7,000 people — in the air during the attacks landed. Suddenly, Gander had to rally to take care of everyone.
What happened in Gander for the next five days is the subject of a musical called Come From Away, which comes to Dallas in March. You Are Here is the documentary that explains the story behind the musical. The documentary will play in select theaters on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Once every plane landed in Gander, they had to register with the Red Cross, so family members would know they were safe. It was 2001, after all, and not everyone had cellphones. And if they did, chargers weren’t readily available. The documentary shows how the city of Gander came together to house and feed and comfort the 7,000 people staying in their town. Churches, schools and homeowners offered their homes. People cooked all night so there would be food to eat.
After five days in Gander, the airspace was finally clear to fly, but Bass says some of the passengers were sad to leave the town they came to love.
“There was a bit of sadness from the passengers because we had been treated so beautifully by the people in Gander that some passengers really did not want to leave,” Bass says. “They have formed lifelong friendships, and some of the passengers have gone back 10 or 12 times. I have been back six times. When I go back to Gander, it’s like a family reunion.”
Bass, who was American Airlines’ first female captain, says she wasn’t scared to fly after the 9/11 attacks.
“When I got home, I called American and begged to take one of the first flights out,” Bass says. “I was never going to let that attack ruin what I loved so much and have loved my whole life.”