How The Hospitality Of One Small Town In Newfoundland Inspired A Broadway Play

"Come From Away" is the true story of a tiny town that took in nearly 7,000 stranded passengers the day of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Come From Away" is the true story of a tiny town that took in nearly 7,000 stranded passengers the day of Sept. 11, 2001.
Credit Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

On Sept. 11, 2001, time stood still for a moment before the world was changed forever. And then heroes sprang into action to help those affected by the terror attacks. One small town in Newfoundland became famous for its hospitality that day.

The Broadway musical “Come From Away” was inspired by this true story of a tiny town that took in nearly 7,000 stranded passengers. City Lights host Lois Reitzes spoke with Beverley Bass, the American Airlines pilot who landed one of the 38 planes diverted to Newfoundland. She also spoke with Bass’ acting counterpart in “Come From Away” is played by Becky Gulsvig. 

Bass was the first female captain and third female pilot to ever fly for American Airlines. Right after the second plane hit the Twin Towers, Bass was alerted to land her plane immediately in Gander, Newfoundland. The town, which had a total population of 11,000 people, was the closest point between Europe and the United States.

Bass decided she had to be open and honest with the passengers about what was going on with their change in destination.

Becky Gulsvig portrays Beverly Bass, the first female captain of American Airlines, who had to land one of the 38 planes in Newfoundland on Sept. 11, 2001. (Summer Evans/WABE)

“I told them ‘ladies and gentlemen, there’s been a crisis in the United States, all the U.S. airspace is closed and we will be landing our plane in Gander, NewFoundland, I will get back to you with more information as soon as we land,” said Bass to the passengers. She continues by saying that there weren’t many cellphones back in 2001, so information was scarce and vague about what was going on in the States. She was unable to reach her husband and children for over 24 hours.

The passengers were ordered to stay on the planes until further noticed, which lasted for 28 hours. They were finally released and greeted by local Newfoundlanders with open arms. Volunteers had worked overnight to create bag lunches, makeshift shelters, sleeping cots, and gather any necessities the “plane people” would need for their stay there.

The planes were not permitted to fly for five days. In the meantime, Gander residents took passengers sightseeing, moose hunting, berry picking, and barbecuing. A common phrase Newfoundlanders use to call people who aren’t from the area are “come from aways”– thus the title of the musical.

“It is such an inspiring show. It inspires you in your daily life to not just be the person at the grocery store being mean, just be patient. It also helps with the larger events in the world that demand people to come together and be the good. There are heavy moments in the show, but there’s so much joy and laughter,” said Gulsvig.

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