The small city of Gander was, at one time, and important international jumping off point for transatlantic aircraft before the age of the long distance jet. Most of the airplanes making the crossing to northern Europe would stop in Gander for fueling before heading across the Atlantic Ocean. Today, the airport is mostly for local and regional flights serviced by local airlines. We toured the airport to see and hear about its previous glory days and also to learn about the important role the airport, the city and the surrounding communities played during the tragic days after the attacks on 11 September, 2001. As soon as it was clear that there was attacks against important targets in the United States by hijacked civilian airliners, the FAA grounded all aircraft in US air space. One of the results of this was all transatlantic flights bound for the USA could not enter the country. For many of them, this meant having to land at the Gander Airport. In the end over six thousand passengers and crew were stranded in this city with a population of less than ten thousand.
Picture of the airport with the stranded planes.
There is a small aviation museum near the airport that covers the aviation history of the area.
The citizens of the city and surrounding communities hurried to help all those stranded. This effort came to be called Operation Yellow Ribbon. There is an excellent book written about this experience from the view point of those that helped in the operation. It is truly an inspiring story. The book is called: " The day the world came to town" by Jim Defede.
One of the towns that played a role in caring for these stranded passengers was Appleton. Nearly every home in the village hosted some of the passengers for the duration of the event. They became famous for their hospitality and meals in the community center. We were able to enjoy a meal prepared by the same folks who cared for the passengers and hear first hand from the town mayor about the conditions at the time and the friendships formed. He was also the mayor in 2001. Just a few years ago, the town was very pleased to receive a steel beam from the twin towers in appreciation for the their efforts. They have created a memorial in the town park to the 9-11 attack.
A major air accident occurred 16 years before the 9-11 event and is still remembered in Gander. On 11 December, 1985 a chartered Arrow Air plane crashed on takeoff after stopping for a refueling on its trip from Egypt to Fort Campbell, KY. It crashed less than a mile from the end of the runway, all 248 passengers from the 101st Airborne Division, U S Army and the entire air crew were killed. We visited the crash site called the Silent Witness Memorial. If you look back towards the airport you can still see where the plane crashed through the trees and landed on the hard rock at the edge of a cliff with parts of the plane going over the edge. It is truly a somber place.