NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — “It was such a gorgeous day,” retired American Airlines pilot Beverley Bass recalled, “we even commented on how gorgeous it was, not a cloud in the sky.”
It was Sept. 11, 2001 and Bass had no way of knowing that the storm had already arrived. She was over the North Atlantic — en route to DFW from Paris. It was in the days before social media and when cell phones were rare, so another pilot delivered the devastating news.
“I honesty couldn’t even wrap my brain around what terrorism meant,” Bass said. “Back then, that was something that happened somewhere else in the world.”
Fearing additional attacks, the U.S. airspace was closed. Pilots were forced to land at whatever airport was nearby. Bass brought hers down in Gander, Newfoundland, where the population was 9,400.
“We walked into the terminal building, and I have never seen so much food in my life. They had literally been up all night long cooking,” she said.
Within a matter of hours, the small time would welcome hundreds of stranded flights, and some 7,000 horrified travelers — turning churches and schools into makeshift shelters.
“So for the next five days, everybody volunteered everything,” Bass stressed. “Some homes took in as many as 10 passengers, and none of them spoke the same language.”
She says she and her crew almost felt guilty at how well they were being treated, while America wrestled with a national nightmare.
“They truly opened their hearts and their homes and took care of us, like you can’t even believe,” Bass recalled. “And when we left Gander on September 15, I remember talking to my cockpit crew and saying, ‘I just want the whole world to know, about what these people did for all of us.'”
Years later, the community’s kindness would inspire a hit Broadway play Come from Away. Bass said opening night revealed so much more than the show.
“In the first five minutes of the show, the actress who plays my role picks up the phone and says, ‘Tom, I’m fine.’ He [Bass’ husband of 30 years] buried his head in his hands, and probably missed 75% of the rest of the show.”
She said in that moment, she realized how much more difficult the ordeal had been for her family, because she had a job to do.
“It has taught me how to be a better person,” Bass said. “I always thought I was a good person; but, I would like to think I have become much better as a result of that.”