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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Remembering September 11, 2001, everyone has a story, and it almost always start with where you were.
For former American Airlines Captain Beverley Bass, it was nearly 40,000 feet over the north Atlantic, flying straight toward two things she’d never imagined.
The horrific events of 9/11, as well as the unforgettable small town of Gander, Newfoundland, that came to her rescue, and that of nearly 7,000 others.
Bass said the first hint of what was happening in New York, was a quick radio transmission.
“None of us thought it could possibly be an airliner, that wasn’t even in our thought process,” she said.
At that moment, Bass was nearly halfway across the Atlantic, flying Paris to DFW on 9/11 when the jet ahead of her American Airlines Boeing 777 radioed something about a plane into the World Trade Center.
She says she and her first officer started to discuss it, but they were eating lunch, and basically wondered what many of us did in the initial minutes. How could an airplane hit the tower?
As events continued to unfold, Bass was still actually a few hours away from any contact with air traffic controllers. Basically, flying blind to the new that awaited.
Even after hearing a second radio transmission from another pilot about a plane into the tower, Bass said, “We don’t know that the planes have been hijacked, we don’t know that he pilots had their throats slit with box cutters, we don’t know that they have taken control of the airplane, we don’t know any of those details.”
As airspace in U.S. begins to shut down, Bass finally comes in radio contact with controllers in Gander Newfoundland. The normal place trans-North Atlantic aircraft resume speaking with controllers.
This time though, would become the first moment in her piloting career, that she would be ordered to land.
Still not truly up to speed on all that was unfolding, Bass said, “We landed, we got parked and the Canadian officials came on the airplane and said ‘you’re not getting off until sometime tomorrow,’ and we actually landed around 10:15 in the morning on September 11th.”
Bass’ jet, was one of 38 trans-Atlantic jets that took up every inch of pavement at the Gander Airport.
The amount of passengers and crew, nearly doubled the town’s population.
Nearly 7,000 passengers and crew, with nowhere to go.
Still unaware of the horror of the attacks, Bass had no concerns or fears about the passengers on her aircraft.
“We left the cockpit door open, we mingled with the passengers the whole time, and all my passengers were great,” she said.
Soon she found out, the people of Gander were great as well.
Word spread, residents cooked food, brought clothing, blankets, pillows.
Striking bus drivers came back to work.
Every building and home that had space, opened their doors to those the locals would call “the plane people.”
Of the people of Gander, Bass simply said, “They were just unbelievable, It didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, the language you spoke, nothing mattered. You were treated as an individual, you were treated great.”
Gander, is also where everyone who landed, would finally see why they were there.
Watching televisions set up for them, to see the gut wrenching moments that played out live to a nation that morning.
Heavy hearts, lifted only by the unwavering humanity that surrounded them in Gander.
It would be five days before they would finally leave, but not in a lifetime says Bass, will she or everyone with her, ever forget the incredible people of Gander, Newfoundland.
“We’ve been back six times, my entire family has been there. I always said, we made life-long friends, and we did,” she said.
Bass’ story and that of the incredible kindness of the people from Gander, was turned into a hit Broadway musical which is about to return to not only Broadway this month, but the road musical will be featured at Bass Hall in Fort Worth, October 19 – 24.
While now retired from American Airlines, Beverley Bass continues her aviation career piloting jet aircraft in private aviation.
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