looks like a wartime evacuation."
by Doug Lindsey
Aircraft in Halifax*
We've had a lot of time to analyze
our feelings in the wake of the attacks. After a couple of days
post-cruise from R7, our Amsterdam to Philadelphia return flight was
diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia on 9-11. Our flight crew claimed we
were diverting because of "weather," but wouldn't say
ANYTHING else. We knew from "popping" ears that we'd been
descending for at least 30 minutes before that and we knew the
"weather" story was baloney and started to get scared.
What could be so bad that they'd lie to try and hide it? A bomb or a
hijacker on board? Literally minutes later we pop out of the clouds
and land seconds after that.
As our jet taxies, we count almost
FIFTY aircraft, including maybe fifteen Boeing 747s parked
nose-to-nose on every available inch of concrete (Halifax is a VERY
small airport.) Virtually every international carrier has a plane or
two. Our Boeing 767 is one of the smaller aircraft. It looks like a
wartime evacuation. I'm not sure how much of this registered on the
other passengers, but it's obvious to Doug and Sherry that nothing
over the North Atlantic is going into the USA. (We later learn that
over 200 flights inbound to USA are diverted to Eastern Canada.)
Sherry asks me what's going on. I tell her the only thing I can
think of big enough to cause this is nuclear weapons; that we must
have lost a city--or maybe several cities. The cabin crew is looking
very grim and saying absolutely nothing. It's obvious they've been
told to keep mum.
A guy next to us has what turns out
later to be the only working cell phone on the plane (they shut off
all the plane's airfones, probably as a security measure.) He calls
home - it's about 1 pm Eastern Time - to tell them we're in Canada
for some reason. They start telling him what the reason is (we can't
hear it). He responds with disbelief. A flight attendant pesters him
to shut off the phone, and eventually he complies. She whispers to
him not to say anything. He nods his head, then puts his head down
on the seat in front and starts to cry. Sherry and I start wondering
if there will be an America to go home to.
city of Halifax scrambles to accommodate over 9,000 people
in emergency shelters.
A few minutes later the pilot comes
on, but his voice fails before he can tell us what's happened. The
co-pilot picks up, and tells us about the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon. Sherry and I feel relief that "only" that much
damage has been done.
We're told we'll be put up in
Halifax till everything is sorted out. We sit on the plane for 10
hours (this is after a 7 hour flight) while the city of Halifax
scrambles to accommodate over 9,000 people in emergency shelters. We
borrow the cell phone for a minute to call home and say we're safe.
Our access to news is extremely limited, and we hear all sorts of
rumors, false alarms and distortions. It's clear that nobody at
home, including our government, is really sure what's going on.
Eventually we get off the plane and
are escorted to the terminal. It looks like every cop, fireman, EMT,
soldier, sailor and reservist in Nova Scotia has been mobilized.
There is an army of people maintaining very tight security and
I make several calls home. We have
2 frequent fliers in the family that might have flown out of
Boston or NYC that day, but it turns out everyone is on the ground
and safe. After maybe an hour at the terminal, we're bussed about 30
minutes to our shelter, the "Park Exhibition Centre."
Inside is a TV room filled with [donated] large-screen monitors
tuned to CNN. Several welcome desks filled with Red Cross volunteers
register us, inquire if we need anything special including
medications, show us where temporary phone banks have been set up,
and guide us to our beds. There are huge tables set up with
beverages and hot food. It's obvious that every fast food joint in
Halifax has been cranking all day to support this.
to be safe...
Part of the Centre is a very large
communal room where bedding for about 1,500 people has been set up.
We find out later that volunteers have gone door-to-door in Halifax
to get pillows, blankets and linens. At least one local mattress
outlet has cleaned out its warehouse and delivered it here. The
Salvation Army contributes what they have; at least 1,000 wool
blankets. The hot food is welcome and the beds feel good.
We're grateful to be safe and
amazed at the degree of mobilization and support that's materialized
in a few hours on our behalf. Most of it is done by Halifax
The next morning we wake up and go
into the sports arena, which has been set up as a dining hall, with
more big monitors tuned to CNN, FoxNews, etc. A hot breakfast is
catered by the staff of Halifax's own World Trade Centre. There is
unlimited hot & cold food & beverages during our stay. We
spend most of the day reading newspapers and watching CNN, as the
media assembles the story. We see the photos and footage of the
destruction, the victims, the rescuers, and hear the stories of
survivors and heroes alike. We listen to dozens of talking heads
attempting to analyze and interpret.
By afternoon a trailer with field
showers is setup. Internet access is available nearby. A
"Stunt-Dog" show is performed in the parking lot. There's
also a free shuttle van to the shopping centers so we can buy
clothing and other "necessaries" (we never gain access to
our luggage). Each night there's live music of all sorts. Just about
everything imaginable shows up within a few hours of somebody
thinking of it or requesting it.
There are maybe 10 planeloads of
people at our facility (there are 17 other hosting facilities, most
much smaller). Aircraft start leaving on the second day, but all of
these are returning to Europe, or continuing to Canadian
Thousands of Halifax families offer
to host travelers in their homes. We'll never know how many; the Red
Cross stopped accepting offers after it reached 4,000 on the first
day. So many Haligonians, as they call themselves, come into our
shelter that they're almost a nuisance; to offer a place to stay, a
restaurant meal, a private tour around town, anything they can think
to help make our stay more pleasant. We witness hundreds of acts of
individual kindness during our stay.
destruction may have taken place in NYC and Washington DC,
but they attacked us too."
Lots of Canadians stop by to say
hello; military, police, Mounties, catering staff. Many offer
sympathy, but I think they mostly want to get a face-to-face
"take" on how we Americans feel. Canadians with
"Therapy Dogs" also stop by many times. The
pilot of our plane stops by each day to say hello and see how
everyone's doing. He's a bright, decent, caring fellow.
We hear the same things many times
on Canadian TV, in the Canadian newspaper letters and editorials,
and from dozens of individual Canadians. The message is worded many
different ways, but it comes down to this: "The destruction may
have taken place in NYC and Washington DC, but they attacked us too.
You suffered the blow for us, but this is our fight. We'll help
anyway we can. We'll fight back too."
Sherry and I wish that Halifax was
part of the USA. The people, the sympathies, the attitudes are so
typical of what we consider to be "American." Any country
should be proud to have such a city.
On the first day, we take advantage
of the shopping shuttle. On the second day, we use the field showers
and take a 2-hour bus tour of Halifax. The sights are pleasant but
not particularly remarkable. But everywhere we turn we meet open,
generous, giving people. We realize that we too, can at least make a
On the second and third days, we
set up a table in the dining area, with a sign that says
"'THANK YOU HALIFAX' - Sign Up Here" and start off with
our own thank you note. At least two planeloads of people are gone
by the time we start, but in a day and a half, at least 500 people
stop by. Their contributions range from a name and address, to full
page 'Thank You' notes. We read through them. Most are quite
touching. Some of our Canadian hosts cry when they read them.
Our plane is called on the morning
of the third day, and we leave a copy, at least 75 pages, with the
We get to the terminal, and a few
minutes later the flight crew shows up. Everyone starts clapping;
they're not merely our ticket home, in three days they've become our
friends. With many delays for heightened security, we reach Albany,
NY late that night. It's never felt so good to be home.
We all take things for granted
until they're gone, then you realize how important and irreplaceable
some things are. For maybe an hour on that first day, I had only my
imagination to guide me as to what terrible things must have just
happened to America. Then, I had three days with little to do but
read newspapers, watch CNN, and contemplate how much
"America" means to me.
I love my home, my family, and my
country. But "America" is more than 270,000,000 very
diverse people, or 3 million square miles of real estate, or the
largest economy and most powerful military the world has ever known.
"America" is a set of
principles and ideals that have been built into the very core of our
culture, our laws, lifestyles and thought patterns. "We hold
these truths to be self-evident." All men [and women] are
created equal. Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. One Nation,
Indivisible. Liberty and Justice for All. Government of [all] the
people, by [all] the people, for [all] the people.
"Unalienable" rights. Personal freedom. Human dignity. The
Rights of Man. We The People.
There were dozens of nationalities
present in The Park Exhibition Centre, and we have the signatures to
prove it. USA, U.K., Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland,
Australia, India, Pakistan, and on and on. About half of us call
ourselves "Americans", but it becomes clear to me that
EVERYBODY here, regardless of their stated nationality, religion or
ethnicity, cherishes these same values. Several of them are quite
free in their political opinions and criticism of the U.S.
government, but everyone I talk to understands and supports the USA
during this dark hour. For these three days at least, huddled
together in a crisis, we are ALL "Americans."
I realize how important these
values are to me, and how little allowance there can be in America
for intolerance, hatred, racism, sexism, or bigotry. America has
such powerful ideals, and we all have to work harder at living up to
them. We must redouble our efforts to be a beacon of light and hope
for the rest of the world.
I also want to say 'thank you' to
US Airways for professionalism and caring. Over the years, you have
become a world-class carrier, but your crew on Flight #43 went far
beyond that. You may be having financial difficulties now, but
whatever we can do to help you survive, we will. When we have the
choice, we will gladly choose US Airways in the future.
We had never realized what good
friends we have in Canada. We remain deeply grateful to the people
of Halifax. You should be proud of what you did. The generosity you
showed was incredible, and we will welcome any and all of you to
Albany. We look forward to a return visit to your wonderful city in
And for America, the charitable
contributions we have already made are just the beginning. Younger,
fitter men than I will be carrying the weapons in this battle, but I
will be behind them. Whatever support I can give, I will give.
Whatever I can do, I will do. Whatever you need, I will do my
personal best to help see that you have it. I will invest every
nickel I can scrape up in our stock market, as proof of my belief in
our economic system. I know I won't be disappointed, once fear
recedes and rationality returns to our financial markets. And I will
use those financial rewards to be more vigorous in defending and
enjoying and using my freedoms, and in protecting the freedoms of
Finally, to Mr. Bin Laden: Truth
has never hurt a cause that was just. You have succeeded in showing
the world everything that is evil and sick and perverted about your
way of life. In contrast, the world has seen little that was not
noble, courageous, good and heroic in our response to disaster.
You have helped all of us in the
civilized world (to which you so clearly do not belong) to
understand what is so special about our values and our way of life.
I am not angry with you, any more
than I would be angry with a cockroach. Nor do I seek vengeance
against you. Vengeance is an unworthy motive that is beneath us as
Americans. But just as cockroaches are vermin that require
extermination, you and your kind are particularly dangerous vermin
that MUST be exterminated. My personal determination will not waver;
I will do everything in my personal power to help see the end of you
and what you stand for.
But before you and your hatreds are
buried in "history's unmarked grave of discarded lies," I
hope you learn just how foolish you have been. Your attack has only
succeeded in making our nation stronger. You can kill people and
destroy airliners and buildings. But you cannot kill an idea whose
time has come. Truth, justice, liberty, dignity, and equality are
alive and well in America. And we will use them to root out and
destroy all the twisted ideas that you stand for.
© 2001 -- Doug Lindsey
International Airport Staff Photographs