Happy Anniversary Heath. It hard to believe that it was three years ago that you and I were joined in an experience we would never forget and always talk about.
About six months previously you and I had made reservations to take a trip to Italy. A new experience for both of us. I can clearly remember being on the phone with the booking agent discussing dates. Originally we had wanted to fly out on September 1 and come back on September 10. The flight we wanted, however, was no longer available, and the agent asked us if returning on September 11, 2001 would work for us.... I think of this so often.
Our trip to Italy was fantastic, I will never forget the things we saw, and experienced, including nearly getting arrested by Italian police for not having a bus ticket. Thank god we were at the station and could slip off before being noticed! At the time I thought that was the most dramatic experience we would encounter in those 2 weeks.
As we boarded the plan to leave Rome, I was sad, but looking forward to getting home. If you have never traveled internationally it's hard to explain the stress that is often associated with traveling outside your own country. I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and seeing my boyfriend at the time again.
The next 24 hours was a life changing experience for a lot of people in the world.
We flew from Rome to Gatwick London. Because there was only about 10-12 hours until our flight home to Dallas, Texas we decided the best thing to do was just to hang out in the airport all night. I thought that was one of the most sleepless nights I would ever have. Neither of us felt comfortable enough to fall asleep as there were a lot of people around, and we were never sure how safe it was or if people would try and mess with us. I vaguely remember playing a few games to entertain ourselves and we talked alittle. Luckily around 6am, McDonald's opened and we got something to eat and alittle caffeine something of which we had both been lacking severely. I was tempted, however, to order beer, as McDonald's in both London and Rome sell beer - yea sometimes us Americans don't always have it right.....but I digress.
We soon exhaustedly boarded the plain and like I said were more than ready to get back home. The next thing I remember was about six hours into the flight. Heath was crashed out, and I had already watched all of the in-flight movie selections I was interested in. We were flying on a Boeing 777, which contains individual screens in front of each seat in coach. So being that I couldn't sleep and was just generally bored I decided to watch the flight navigation. This shows you where you are, where you took off from and your destination point. It also gives temperature, speed, velocity and distance to destination. The distance to destination was something like 44oo miles left to Dallas, so we were about 2 hours or so off the east coast of the United States. Suddenly I watched our destination change from Dallas, Texas to a place called Gander Newfoundland. 4400 miles quickly changed to 234 files.
Fellow passangers of our flight in Gander, Newfoundland.
I looked out the window in desperate need to see land - all I saw was the Atlantic ocean, and for just a second - just ONE second I briefly thought of the titanic for some reason. Yea I don't know why - just did.
I immediately woke Heath up and pointed out that our new destination change. Heath told me it was probably just a glitch in the navigation, but I knew it wasn't. A few moments later our pilot came on and said that there had been a "security alert" in the United States, we had been diverted to Gander, and we would be beginning our descent as well as dropping fuel. As the plane began to circle a small island began to come into view. Many thoughts went through my mind, what was happening at home, why were we landing here, was there something wrong with the plane, how was the runway going to be long enough to handle such a big plane. I got answers to these questions much later....
Landing in Gander was surreal, there were about 20 other planes on the ground when we landed, everything from air France, lufansa to swiss air and british airways. Local Canadians were coming by to take pictures, and I just couldn't figure out what was going on.
We sat on that plane for another 10 hours. That's right 10 HOURS. We had no idea what was going on at home, and we spent what it seems like all of that time trying to contact our families through satellite phones on the plane. You can imagine how unsuccessful that attempt was. We did reach my parents at one point, but it was very brief. Some other time I will tell you their side of this story.
Somewhere in the midst of the 10 hours, the pilot played us a BBC broadcast of what had occurred that day in the United States. I remember being numb...I didn't fully understand it, or how horrifying the images were that were associated it until later that day.
They eventually emptied the 20 planes, plane by plane. As we walked through customs they separated out all people of indian and arab descent, I never knew what they did with them, they would join us about 2 hours later. At this point I thought of World War II Germany. As we walked through customs individually we were asked if we were carrying any weapons or illegal arms. My first thought: If I was I would have used them by now to get off of a plane I'd been on for close to 16 hours. My second thought a month later: They never asked me if I had a box cutter.....
Gander closed it's schools and churches, local school bus drivers took us from the airport and in our case to a local church. There were about 250 people on our plane. We all huddled into the church and begged for the church pastor to bring us a television. As we huddled around the television we saw the images that matched the BBC broadcast from earlier for the first time. Again I remember feeling numb. We couldn't stop watching it. Many of us sat there for hours upon hours watching the images over and over again. I remember thinking how unimaginable it all was.
We spent two days in Gander sleeping on church pews...Thank you Gander, for all of your love and kindness, it was surreal.
Finally British Airlines the company that owned our plane decided to bring it's planes back home, so we were forced to fly back to england as the United States was still not allowing any air traffic into it's airspace. British Airways put us up in a hotel for 2 days in Brighton, England. On the third day BA put us on standby for a flight for Houston, it wasn't Dallas, but atleast it would be close to home...
10 hours later and 5 days after our original landing date we finally made it back home. Heath and I were an emotional wreck in every sense of the word, but I can't imagine going through that experience with anyone else. Every time we talk we always find a way to mention something about that experience. Every year at this time I think of him and am happy that we made it through that many other things since. I think about many aspects of this experience often, there are many things that happened that day that I will never understand. We were changed by it...we are no longer the same, but we are here, and that must count for something.