UP woman recalls 9/11 flights, stop in Gander, Newfoundland
For Nicole Cardwell of University Park, Come From Away, the Broadway musical about the Canadian town that took in stranded air travelers after the 9/11 attacks, is more than just a show.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the then 23-year-old new college graduate was flying back to Dallas after visiting a friend in Florence, Italy.
Cardwell’s day started with a flight on a small plane from Italy to Paris. She gave up her aisle seat so a family could sit together.
“So, mid-air through that flight, a flight attendant came to tell me that the pilot wanted me to join him in the cockpit as a thank you for being kind to that family,” Cardwell said.
She stayed in the cockpit through landing to view the Eiffel Tower and Euro Disney.
“Anyway, I thought that was just kind of crazy because never again has anyone ever been asked to come in the cockpit to sit for flight and landing,” she said.
The people of Gander had a willingness to help others and put our needs above their own.Nicole Cardwell
After a layover, she boarded American Airlines Flight 49, and over the Atlantic, a flight attendant approached her.
“He sits next to me and said, ‘I need you to remain calm,’ and he wanted to share some confidential information about what had happened in the United States … and we would be making an unexpected landing before we would continue on to Dallas, so it was scary, unsettling,” Cardwell said.
Shortly thereafter, the pilot, American Airlines’ first female captain Beverley Bass, announced over the intercom that U.S. airspace had been shut down. The plane would make an emergency landing in Gander, Newfoundland.
Air traffic controllers landed about 48 planes in four hours, nearly doubling the size of the town.
“This is the moment to me that the goodness and kindness of man prevailed on 9/11. The people of Gander had a willingness to help others and put our needs above their own,” Cardwell said. “I was on my plane for 28 hours before we got off … when we loaded onto the school bus to leave the airport was the first-time passengers had heard anything of the real news of what had happened on 9/11. A male passenger read us the paper. There was not a dry eye on that bus.”
She called her mother, Carol Newell, an American Airlines flight attendant in 2001, and stayed at the Knights of Columbus bingo hall. Then on the third day, a Newfoundlander invited her and six other passengers to come over and stay.
Cardwell returned to Dallas on Sept. 15, 2001.
Cardwell, Newell, and Bass attended a reception hosted by the Canadian Consulate General ahead of the opening night performance of Come From Away on Oct. 19 at Bass Hall in Fort Worth.
It wasn’t the first time Cardwell had seen the show. She saw it in Dallas in March of 2020 before the pandemic stopped performances and in New York before that.