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A man in an RCMP uniform.

RCMP officer kept stranded air passengers safe on 9/11

RCMP Cpl. Mike Hall was on the ground in Gander, N.L. when 38 flights carrying 6,500 passengers arrived after being diverted in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Credit: RCMP


This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Although they occurred in the U.S., the impact was felt around the world as flights were rerouted, security tightened and borders closed.

In remembrance, Gazette writer Paul Northcott talks to several RCMP officers and staff about their personal accounts of the horrific day and aftermath. Read Part 2 of our 4-part series below.

In the early hours after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, when diverted flights began to arrive at the international airport in Gander, NL., RCMP Cpl. Mike Hall knew what he had to do.

"From the moment it all started I knew the most important thing was to keep people calm, in the airport and on the planes," says Hall, who was the detachment team lead in Gander at the time.

"Panic is the enemy and people had to feel secure," he adds.

A total of 38 airliners, carrying more than 6,500 passengers arrived in Gander after the U.S. Federal Airport Administration grounded all international flights in the wake of the terror attacks.

"My initial thoughts were also to keep them all happy until they could fly away," says Hall, who didn't think that moment was days off.

And with the town's population essentially doubled, a huge response quickly unfolded to help secure the airport and to house and feed the thousands of newcomers who were arriving.

While in the air, flight crews were only told there was a crisis in U.S. airspace with no other details, and given direction to land. Some crews, however, heard news of possible terrorist activity in New York, from other airline colleagues around the world.

The airplanes were not going to be immediately unloaded of their passengers or baggage for fear that terrorists or bombs could be on any of the planes.

But, as the day grew longer and crews and passengers sat in the parked planes for hours, news of the attacks slowly began to spread on some planes.

Hall knew that people on those planes had to feel safe; he directed arriving officers to go out on the tarmac and runaways so crew and passengers could see a steady police presence.

As team lead, Hall also walked more than 25 kilometres along the runaways that day, making contact with airline crews onboard each plane to make sure everyone was safe and secure.

On one plane, an off-duty officer of the New York State Police wanted to know why his plane was in Gander and if he could have information about why his cell phone could not reach his sister, who worked in downtown New York. "There was no way I was going to tell him anything, but I had to keep him and the crew calm," says Hall.

On another plane, he helped reassure crewmembers that a passenger who was acting erratically was not a potential terrorist.

While approaching that same aircraft later, Hall was amused to see the unique use of a piece of airport equipment. A lift normally used to elevate airport workers and baggage had been placed near one of the plane's doors and was being used by passengers as an impromptu smoking lounge.

"It was a bending of the rules, but it made a difference and helped relieve some stress on the plane," says Hall.

In hindsight, he recalls a day that was busy, stressful and one he will never forget.

"Our job is to provide reassurance to people," says Hall, who now works in RCMP Operational Policy and Compliance in Ottawa.

"It's days like that we all train for and when we get the chance to perform it's good to know that preparation and hard work paid off."

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