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Telling untold stories: book by Gander man highlights some of the unsung heroes of 9-11

Some of the 38 planes that were diverted to Gander International Airport Sept. 11, 2001 because of terrorist attacks in the United States. — Transcontinental Media file photo
Some of the 38 planes that were diverted to Gander International Airport Sept. 11, 2001 because of terrorist attacks in the United States. — Transcontinental Media file photo

Mac Moss started out authoring a pamphlet; it turned into something more

GANDER, N.L. —

Mac Moss never intended to write a book about 9-11 when he set out to record his memories of that tumultuous period in his town and internationally.

As a former administrator of the College of the North Atlantic in Gander, Moss was responsible for 438 of the 6,700 passengers who landed in the central Newfoundland community when a terrorist attack forced the closure of American airspace and brought 38 planes to Gander International Airport.

Originally, Moss's plan was to write about those experiences for a pamphlet to give to the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in town.

“I felt like I better write all of this stuff down while I still have my mind,” the 75-year-old said with a laugh.

Mac Moss
Mac Moss

That was two years ago. Since then, the pamphlet has turned into something larger; Moss is on the verge of finishing the manuscript for a book on 9-11 and many of its moving parts. It's called "Flown Into the Arms of Angels: Newfoundland and Labrador 9-11 Untold Stories and Unsung Heroes."

“It is an absolutely amazing story,” said Moss, who expects the book to be over 300 pages in length.

The book is not just about Gander’s response to accepting 6,700 people into its community and making it work. Moss tells the stories of people across the province — from Stephenville to St. John's — who pitched in and helped passengers. He interviewed municipal leaders of that time, such as Andy Wells and Shannie Duff, former airport personnel, members of the Canadian Red Cross, educators and clergy.

He even relates the story of a Norris Arm woman who gave a passenger a set of clothes, including underwear, while the stranded traveller's clothing was being washed.

“I wanted to uncover stories that haven’t been told,” said Moss.

The book also takes a look at just how prepared Newfoundland was for such a disaster. The Town of Gander, the airport, the Canadian Forces Base 9 Wing Gander were among those that activated —  either partly or fully — emergency operations centres as news of the attacks reached them.

That extended to other airports in the province.


"There are a lot of people out there who were involved and could certainly add a lot to what happened. I think (Mac Moss) is going to cover a lot of bases and I think he will give a lot of credit to people." — Des Dillon


In his research, Moss found there was already a sheltering plan in place, and officials had a working database of places that could house stranded passengers. He also found Gander, and the province, had experience with accepting a large number of people from when the airport welcomed hundreds of Eastern European refugees in the early 1990s.

“It is an amazing story of preparedness,” said Moss.

Des Dillon is a former member of the Gander chapter of the Canadian Red Cross and was heavily involved with Gander's response in the aftermath of 9-11. Dillon was among those interviewed by Moss and says the book will do a good job of illuminating the stories of some people who played roles in the local 9-11 response who didn't have a spotlight shone on them before.

"There are a lot of people out there who were involved and could certainly add a lot to what happened. I think he is going to cover a lot of bases and I think he will give a lot of credit to people."

The response to being called to help is the backbone of Moss’s story.

In his conversations with those who helped, he had a discussion with a man from Gambo who helped people 16 hours a day, while also checking in on his mother daily.

Moss asked how he was able to achieve this multi-tasking. The man’s response was simple: he just did it.

“Ninety-five per cent of the people I talk to don’t recognize their contribution was significant, but it was,” said Moss.

Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network.


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