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The Honeymooners
Contributed by tara on: Friday 26 October @ 07:11:42
In the PressSteve and I were the honeymooners from England who were so kindly taken in by a Gambo family.

Here is our story which appeared in the British press on October 19 . . .

Following their wedding, Evening Telegraph journalist TARA CAIN and her husband planned an unforgettable honeymoon in America. But when they boarded their plane on September 11 -- the day terrorists flew jets into the World Trade Centre -- they had no idea what a remarkable story they would have to tell when they got back...

I SPENT the first night of my honeymoon sleeping with more than 200 strangers, on the floor of a cramped Salvation Army church in a small town on the east coast of Canada.

Not the Hawaiian paradise we were heading for. Our first meal together as man and wife was a hastily-eaten paper plate of chicken, cold chips and pizza sat on the back seat of a yellow school bus.

My new husband and I were onboard a United Airlines 929 bound for Chicago, when terrorists struck in New York and Washington.

We were just two of the 6,500 airline passengers who disembarked at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland.

Thirty eight planes were stacked up on the small runway that day. Not that we knew it at the time as we were kept on the aircraft for 20 hours. Food supplies had run out, the air conditioning wasn?t working properly and we felt trapped, anxious and desperate to know what was going on.

We were eventually hooked up to the BBC World Service through our headphones and could listen to the horror that was unfolding. An eerie quiet swept through the plane as everyone tried to take on board the enormity of the attack.

Eventually we were herded off on to school buses in single file, shuffled through a security search, handed a plastic carrier bag of food, herded back on to the buses and driven to the small town of Gambo. Our luggage was to stay on the plane.

This would be our new home for the next five days.

We didn't know that at the time. We were clinging to the hope that this was a temporary arrangement so the planes could be refuelled, checked and shipped straight back out again.

We were very wrong.

The Salvation Army church hall in Gambo opened its doors to the 198 passengers of flight 929. The town's other church halls, school and fire department were also brimming with airplane folk.

But our confusion, discomfort and disappointment would only pale by comparison when we saw the first pictures of the horror that was unfolding just over the border in America.

As we arrived at the church we were greeted with food, hot drinks and an army of volunteers -- townsfolk who had turned out in force to help.

These were people who never questioned why or how much it would inconvenience their lives. They were there to help ? in any way they could.

Toiletries were dished out, phones made available and an e-mail connection set up for all those desperate to let loved-ones know they were safe and well.

As the day wore on we realised we would be staying the night and so a bunch of total strangers tried to find a bed for the night. Pews were lined with blankets, the stage was a sea of people and the floor was littered with the blankets and pillows brought from the plane.

My husband and I were lucky enough to find a padded pew to bed down on -- top to toe. We were even luckier when a local family, after hearing we were newlyweds, offered to take us in, give us a bed and a little privacy. You have no idea how grateful we were.

The following day, it became more and more apparent that we wouldn't be leaving any time soon. Locals drove to the church to offer people the chance of using a shower, having their clothes laundered or just to escape the confines of the building and go for a drive to see the countryside.

As the hours dragged on to days, and constant 'updates' just brought more bad news, the large crowd of strandees could so easily have turned restless. Instead we saw an incredible spirit among strangers who were slowly becoming good friends.

One passenger was on his way to Nashville to record some of his songs and, as we sat lined up like cub scouts to dinner, he entertained the room with just his guitar and voice. An unplugged set has never sounded sweeter. He even composed his own tribute song to our plight, which went down a storm.

Everyone had a story to tell. There were the two young girls on the first leg of a world tour who missed their friend's wedding in Las Vegas. The family with five children heading for Texas. The single mum heading back to her two girls. The wife heading for a fertility clinic in San Diego to try for a baby.

Then the rumour mill started. We were waiting to get back on a plane and fly to Chicago. What if there were more attacks being planned? Why was our plane taking so long to reboard? Was there a suspect on our flight?

Fear, anxiety, frustration, boredom, anger overtook us all at some point.

But we had landed in a town where the locals wouldn't sit back and allow us to wallow. Youngsters offered up their time to take us on walks, families opened up their doors to strangers -- even drivers stopped to give strandees a lift to wherever they wanted to go.

And the family who took us under their wing -- Craig and Brenda Russell and their two children Megan and Justin -- included us in their family meals, drove us around, took us sightseeing and calmed our nerves.

Having returned safely home (yes, we did manage to get to Hawaii for the second week of our honeymoon) we now look back with such fondness on the people of Gambo.

The town has a population of 8,000 -- 6,500 people disembarked from those 38 planes. Nobody should underestimate what these townsfolk did for us.

As the news came through at midnight on Saturday that we were finally leaving, families turned out to say their goodbyes. Tears were shed, grown men were hugging and addresses and e-mails exchanged.

Back on the plane it was like a school outing -- 200 strangers had become friends. Everyone was taking photos, chatting, discovering where their mates were sitting.

When we finally arrived at Chicago's O'Hare airport a line of 20-odd baggage handlers lined up outside waving their American flags to welcome us home. And as we deplaned, United Airlines staff lined the tunnel, clapping and cheering. It was a small gesture on the part of the airline but I think every one of us appreciated it.

As the rest of the world saw how evil mankind can be, we saw the flipside of the coin and witnessed first hand how incredibly kind people can be in times of crisis.

We have made some very good friends in Gambo. The Russells have e-mailed to say the town took a while to return to normality after we left. Now there's even a website designed for the passengers of United's 929 flight for old friends to chat, share memories and swap photos.

It wasn't the honeymoon we planned. We had lived in the same clothes for five days, crammed into a smalltown church and endured days of uncertainty. But it's a story I'll be proud to tell my grandchildren in years to come.

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"The Honeymooners" | Login/Create Account | 2 comments
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Re: The Honeymooners (Score 1)
by: Cathy on: Friday 26 October @ 11:35:56
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Tara and S

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Re: The Honeymooners;(Score: 1)
by: jonna (jonnaorwig@aol.com) on: Friday 26 October @ 18:38:19
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I thought

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