Travelers stranded during Sept. 11 terrorist attacks keep in touch through web s
By craig - Date: 2001-10-15 17:24:18

Bob sent this article from his local paper - it's in the Hannibal Courier-Post.

By BEV DARR - Courier-Post Staff Writer

The tragic events of Sept. 11 have resulted in some unforeseen changes in people's lives, such as the hundreds who were on planes that were diverted to Canada on that fateful day.

Bob Smith of Rensselaer was among these people, and one of the outcomes of his five days in Canada is an Internet Web site he set up to give the people who quickly bonded in Canada an easy way to keep in touch.

Smith's memories of this historic time in the nation's history are told in his own words on his Web site at

After returning to his home and his job at Mark Twain Cave, he has been in contact with nearly 20 of the 198 passengers on his United Airlines flight, which landed in Newfoundland.

He expects to remain lifetime friends with many people who shared his flight, which was bringing him home from his native England, after attending his father's funeral.

One thing that had been a common thread between all the people who were there is the difficulty in explaining it to anybody who wasn't there, what happened to us, including our spouses, Smith said.

Of the 198 on the plane, I have had e-mails from between 17 and 20 of them so far, and more have signed the guest book on the Web site.

He expects that between 25 to 50 percent will stay in contact and make lifetime friends. ...When you are under stress and bond to each other, nobody messes up and everybody helps each other.

He said on Sept. 11, he would have preferred to have gone back to London and stayed in a hotel, but I'm glad I didn't. I think you will find 90 percent on our airplane would say the same thing.

Because his plane was more than halfway across the Atlantic, Smith said, it did not have to return to England, but instead landed in Canada. Its original destination was Chicago. We had just passed the halfway mark, Smith said. If we had been 40 minutes later, we would have gone back to Heathrow.

His wife, the former Cindy Hills of Monroe City, had remained at their Lake Hannibal home near Rensselaer, because of the suddenness of his father's death, Smith explained. His two daughters in England did not know where he was for many hours, because it was 10 hours before he could get a telephone call through to his wife, and she contacted his daughters.

Describing how the passengers on his plane learned what happened Sept. 11, Smith said. The first thing we knew was when the undercarriage dropped and we saw fuel venting (discharging) from the wing. This was done for two reasons: weight restriction and fire risk on landing.

Next, they told us the FAA had closed off all U.S. airspace, and we were being diverted to Newfoundland. There was considerable speculation as to why, but I don't think the captain knew.

The people on board reacted very well, Smith said. It was surprising to me, how calm everybody was. Later they were told about the attack and listened to the news on BBC radio. We didn't see the plane going into the tower until two days later.

They stayed on plane for 26 hours after landing. I can remember that precisely, Smith said, because it was very warm - 82 degrees and the air conditioning was not working for the first four or five hours.

By the time they deplaned, we knew each other quite intimately, he said, and were pulling together - helping each other. People shared food and water. They handed mobile phones around so we could call people. The group jelled very quickly indeed. It was one of the best groups I've ever been involved in under stress.

We had a life changing experience, he said. It's an experience I'm really grateful for having gone through, notwithstanding the awful reason for it.

Many countries were represented on his flight, Smith said. There were equal Americans and Brits. I sat next to a Palestinian who lives in Saudi Arabia. Others were from China, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Ireland.

They went to the small town of Gambo, which closed its normal operation, as travelers filled all the schools and churches. Smith stayed at the Salvation Army church. We more than doubled their population, he said. The residents of Gambo took care of the travelers, giving them home visits for showers and meals, and took them on trips around the area.

There were 39 planes in Gander, and the passengers were taken to many towns, including Gambo. His flight was among the last to leave, Smith said. We were told one of the reasons we were one of the last planes out was we didn't give anybody any grief. We were there five days. The captains would ring in and say, 'I was really impressed with the people.'

The people in Newfoundland were magnificent, he said. They fed us. They entertained us. They sent their children around to sing to us. We had a man (Julian) sing to us who has written for Nashville. He organized entertainment every night.

While the travelers were forming friendships and helping each other, Smith said, their families were worried about them, and had to wait several hours to learn where they were. The people sitting at home had a far tougher time of it than we did.

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