The Broadway musical “Come From Away” portrays the extraordinary events of 9/11 and its immediate aftermath as it unfolded in the city of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada and its surrounding towns. On September 11th, once it was known that aircraft were being used to attacks buildings, the airspace over the US was closed and all incoming flights were diverted elsewhere.
Many planes were diverted to Canadian cities, including several communities in the province of Newfoundland. These communities included Goose Bay, Stephenville, Saint John’s and Gander. The other communities were either larger with sufficient hotel space and accommodations for the passengers, or had previously been military bases where accommodations could be made available. Gander stood out alone as a small community with a large airport that had few hotel rooms compared to the number of diverted passengers.
“Come From Away” and Newfoundland Tourism
As a tourist traveling through Newfoundland, it soon became clear that most of the other tourists that we encountered knew of the musical and many had seen it in performed various places. As a result, they were drawn to Newfoundland as a “place to visit.” We met people who had seen the musical either on Broadway in New York, London or other cities where the touring cast traveled – such as Portland and Seattle.
We learned that the musical will be opening in mid-July in Australia – reaching a total of five performing troupes playing on three continents across the world. With the musical having earned a place in the promotion of tourism to Newfoundland, it was a pleasant surprise to find a “Meet the Flynns,” brochure informing tourists about the opportunity for an intimate visit with the real person behind one of the central characters in the musical to talk about the event – Mayor Derm Flynn and his wife Dianne.
Meet the Flynns
Central to the story of Gander on 9/11 and the Broadway musical was the Appleton Mayor, Derm Flynn who, early that morning, recognized that quick action was needed to accommodate the large number of diverted passengers. At the time the planes landed, it was assumed that they would resume their travels a few hours later. According to Derm, nobody thought the stop-over would last five day.
As Derm recounted, unlike the other cities, Gander only had about 550 hotel rooms which would be enough for only the crews of the 38 aircraft – all of whom had requirements for sleep before continuing their flights. There was no possibility of relief / substitute plane crews to take their place when the travel ban was lifted.
With all the hotel rooms set aside for the crews, only emergency accommodations at schools and public buildings were available for the passengers. However, making room at the schools required sending the children home early – with all of the logistical challenges that entailed. The logistical challenges included convincing striking school bus drivers to return to work – because without school buses, there would be no way to move the 7,000+ passengers to temporary lodging regardless of where those accommodations were located.
Because of the events of the day, Derm recounted, “All planes were treated as weapons.” As a result, some passengers were on their plane for 15 and some as many as 30 hours before a process for off-loading passengers was put into place. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty in the air, consequently all planes and travelers were viewed with suspicion. Normally, the Gander airport only had a few customs inspectors and additional customs and immigration staff needed to be put in place before letting passengers off the planes. All of this took time.
As Derm recounted, once people were able to get off the plane, there was no ability to treat people differently based on socioeconomic status so everyone was treated the same, “regardless of whether they were a millionaire or they had 10 cents in their pocket.”
The most immediate concern was food preparation. All of the flights that landed were at the end of their trip from Europe and the planes’ kitchens had exhausted all the meals that would have been onboard. As the community response was organized, food preparation was at the top of the list.
As the passengers were brought to their emergency accommodations, without their checked luggage, some people offered space in private homes. “Volunteers from the community came forward to do what they could,” said Dianne. “Volunteers would come forward. One would say, ‘I can take three’, and another would say, ‘I can take a mother and two children’. Many people wanted to do something to distract them from what was happening in the United States.”
Derm said, “Dianne and I were able to host six travelers in our modest home in Appleton. On the first day we were strangers, on the second day we were friends and by the fourth we were family. We still stay in touch.”
The community response – with the backdrop of the events of 9/11 – touched many of the travelers. Derm recalled, “One of the visitors from New York City, who had a strong Polish accent, was observed crying and when we asked if he had family he was concerned about in New York, he said ‘no.’ He said that he could not believe the friendliness of the community. He confessed that he couldn’t envision opening his doors if strangers came to him in need – in fact he would not unbolt his door and he would call the police.”
Fortunately, the community response was aided by five days of beautiful weather, as portrayed in the musical.
Derm and Dianne both commented on the character of volunteerism in general, by saying that most of the volunteers were from the older generation. He said they generally had more time available for volunteer causes. Derm and Dianne pointed out that younger people have less time because they were busy raising children and their volunteer efforts were focused around the needs of their families – baseball, hockey, boy scouts and girl guides, for example.
They told us that Newfoundland has a history of many isolated communities in which taking care of other community members was part of the social fabric. However, most communities in Newfoundland, including Gander, are no longer isolated like they once were, and they are part of the modern world. Derm’s and Dianne’s comments underscored that the heartwarming response from the people of Gander and surrounding communities to strangers, lending a helping hand, is not an anachronism. It is part of the human experience, even in the “modern” world.
Derm and Dianne expressed their belief that people-helping-people is more widespread than we frequently acknowledge. They commented on the joy and satisfaction of being involved with such an inspirational story. In many ways, it gives people a mirror to look at themselves and recognize their aspirations to be more connected to other members of the human family.
When Derm and Dianne travel around the world, as cultural ambassadors of Newfoundland, they are witnesses who recount, “Yes this welcoming event really did happen.”
A 9/11 WTC Steel Monument in Newfoundland
In the ensuing years, Mayor Flynn has organized annual remembrances of the events of 9/11. Derm said that “The remembrance services we put on are as much for the community volunteers who looked after the stranded passengers, as it is to mark the tragedy.” Appleton was the only place in the province to mark the events of Sept. 11, 2001 every year.
Donations from grateful passengers to the town, thanking the people for their hospitality, were used to build the Appleton Peace Park on the shoreline of the Gander River in what is now officially known as the “Derm Flynn River Front Peace Park.”
The town worked for more than a year to get a piece of World Trade Center steel. The request was granted with the donation of one of the last pieces WTC steel in the possession of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
However, once the grant was made, there were difficult hurdles to overcome. The Canadian customs officials kept asking for a value of the steel piece that was to be brought into Canada – to which the memorial committee replied “priceless,” or “astronomical,” or “incalculable” or “unquantifiable.” Eventually, Derm said, “Once I realized that they wanted to know the intrinsic value of the scrap steel – I got a quote and told customs the value was $150. Once I reported this, the steel was allowed in.”
The monument was installed in 2013 in a ceremony shown in Figure 1. "When you see the size of this piece of steel, twisted and turned like it is, you can only imagine the magnitude of the tragedy," said Appleton Mayor Derm Flynn.
The WTC Steel
The piece that was donated to the memorial was a “channel” piece that connected the floor trusses to the core column and identified by NIST as “C-118.” This piece was documented by NIST in Figure 2. The memorial steel is positioned in a way to show the destruction, but it is mounted upside down from its original orientation in the Tower. Central to this piece of steel are three places where the floor trusses connected to core columns. The core columns held up 2/3 of the gravity weight of the towers.
As shown in Figure 2, this channel piece originally had three floor-truss seats, but one was removed for further analysis by NIST. In the right-most seat, remnants of the bearing plate of the floor truss are still held in place by the surviving bolts (seat 3). In the middle seat (seat 2), the bolts apparently failed. According to the NIST report, the third seat (seat 1) had one bolt remaining and the bolt-hole was ripped apart. This third seat was removed from C-118 by a cutting torch which explains the very rough cuts around the hole. These torch-marks are very different from the ripped steel (ductile fracture) that is seen elsewhere in the artifact.
Figure 3 shows the design and construction of the floor truss to (core) channel seat.
The location of this channel piece would have been along the outer edge of the core at one of the higher floors. Figure 4 shows a channel piece mounted along the side of the core columns on a lower floor. The regularly spaced protrusions on the channel are the floor truss seats described in Figures 2 and 3. At the far end of the tower, a floor truss is shown connecting the channel seats (along the back-side channel) to one of the perimeter column (trident) sections.
It is not clear exactly where the NIST C-118 piece was originally installed in the Twin Towers, but based on its shape, it was probably located in one of the upper floors as indicated in the drawing shown in Figure 5.
On the opposite side of the channel from the seats are the remnants of a stiffener and three bolted plates that held the channel to the core and provided stability. These plates have been bent toward the south and the plates have been pulled apart. The edges bear little resemblance to the rough torch cut hole where seat 1 was removed. The failure of the stiffeners and bolted plates in these three locations appear to be caused by necking , indicating the failures were caused by excessive force – causing ductile fracture (e.g., the steel ripped).
 Necking, in engineering or materials science, is a mode of tensile deformation where relatively large amounts of strain localize disproportionately in a small region of the material. The resulting prominent decrease in local cross-sectional area provides the basis for the name "neck". Because the local strains in the neck are large, necking is often closely associated with yielding, a form of plastic deformation associated with ductile materials, often metals or polymers. Once necking has begun, the neck becomes the exclusive location of yielding in the material, as the reduced area gives the neck the largest local stress. The neck eventually becomes a fracture when enough strain is applied. (Wikipedia)