A place to sleep
The Stephenville Airport and it’s people has earned it’s place in History but to our dismay the Stephenville Airport is now closed!
Once they were able to leave the airport, passengers were re-loaded onto buses and taken to accommodations in and around the Stephenville and Corner Brook areas, including the local Royal Newfoundland Regiment‘s Armouries and the Salvation Army‘s Camp of Silver Birches in the Humber Valley.
Many passengers were taken to the Stephenville campus of College of the North Atlantic, where staff had prepared spaghetti, meat sauce and desserts for 1,500 people.
“I recall a woman in her 50s standing in front of the television in the lobby; she was transfixed for minutes as she watched the loops of the buildings collapsing,” said Cyril Organ, then a campus administrator.
“Remember, she had been on a plane for hours and subjected to an intense security process so this was the first time that she saw first-hand what had happened earlier in the day. It occurred to me that the expression on her face had been worn by the rest of us some 12 hours earlier.”
Students gave up their dorm rooms for the passengers, and other passengers were set up in bunks inside classrooms and other areas.
“It was clear that most people were stressed and exhausted, and we tried our best to get them settled as easily as possible,” said Mr. Organ. “It was equally clear that people needed to call home so we set up a number of rooms where people could contact their families to reassure them. One of the airlines had distributed my cell number as the contact number for families and I recall spending a lot of time on the phone on a 24/7 basis.”
And while it was a rather sombre day, Mr. Organ noted there were also few lighter moments.
“We learned that a couple has just been married and were still in their wedding garb. Staff sourced a bottle of wine and made sure they had a room to themselves,” he said.
“I enjoyed the time with the Mexican passengers. Moreso than the other nationalities, they demonstrated a disposition most closely aligned with Newfoundlanders. They had fun, made the best of a bad situation and chipped in to help.“
The pace to keep the passengers as comfortable as possible during the next few days remained intense for the volunteer hosts.
“People forget that these passengers came off the planes with the clothes on their backs,” said Mr. Organ. “Luggage remained on the planes, so everyone needed fresh clothes, and many needed medications urgently. All of these needs were accommodated.”
Many citizens, businesses and organizations donated goods to help the passengers – using the airport as a hub to drop off their donations.
“We had the airport just like a store,” said Ms. Kendall. “The area where the baggage comes in, we had all that lined with products and everybody was bringing us sandwiches and things like that to keep them going.”
On Sept. 14, with the skies re-opened to commercial air traffic, the passengers received word that they’d be heading home. The last of the passengers flew out that evening.
“It happened so fast, that week went like a day,” said Mr. MacNeil, reflecting a decade later on the local relief effort. “To me, we all did what we were supposed to do and there’s no big thing about it.” He and others credit the countless volunteers who did whatever they could to help the stranded passengers - without seeking any praise for what they did.
“I’ve been asked in the years since why the efforts in Stephenville are not more widely known or recognized. I said early and I repeat now that everyone did the right things for the right reasons,” said Mr. Organ. “Everyone walked away with the satisfaction that flows from a job well done and that’s the recognition that counts.”
However, a bit of acclaim is forthcoming. To thank local people for their efforts on Sept. 11, 2001, a plaque will be unveiled by U.S. Embassy officials in Stephenville on Sept. 19.
Christopher Vaughan – Published on September 12, 2011 – 9-11 remembered – related slideshow