As if the story of “Come From Away” isn’t compelling enough – almost 7,000 people traveling by plane on Sept. 11, 2001, were forced to land in the tiny town of Gander in Newfoundland and found themselves blanketed with kindness – hearing directly from some of the people who lived through the experience was an added bonus.
Following Tuesday’s opening night of the Tony-winning musical at The Fox Theatre, where it will play through Sunday, the quartet of Kevin Tuerff (a passenger on one of the planes and author of “Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11”); Beverley Bass (former American Airlines pilot who landed a Dallas-bound plane in Gander); Claude Elliott (Mayor of Gander until 2017); and Lisa Pierce (senior director for sales and market development for Air Canada), shared stories with the crowd.
Tuerff confirmed that “what you saw (in the musical) was so authentic in true,” but joked that some things were exaggerated for dramatic effect. “I am portrayed in the show as a gay lumberjack…I am not a lumberjack,” he said, eliciting laughs.
Elliott exhibited the sentiments of a man who effortlessly mobilized a town of 9,000 into a welcome brigade for the stranded passengers, who couldn’t leave Gander until Sept. 14.
“The strongest asset for any community to have is its people,” Elliott said. “It’s instilled in us as kids that you need to help people.”
Bass, who in 1986 became the first female captain at American Airlines, received a standing ovation. She recounted the confusion and disbelief when she first heard about the tragedy via air traffic control.
“I was so naïve about what terrorism was. I couldn’t imagine what had happened,” she said.
Bass recalled talking to her lead flight attendant before making an announcement to explain to passengers why they were being diverted to Gander.
“It was one of the hardest (public addresses) I ever had to make. I had made up my mind that I was going to tell the truth, but not much of it,” she said.
Her message to passengers was: “There has been a crisis in the U.S. and all airspace is closed.”
Elliott reiterated the importance of “Come From Away” and the inspiration it fosters. “The world today needs good news stories,” he said.
He also noted, “What we saw happen in the U.S. was the worst of mankind. When you saw happen with 7,000 people in Gander was the best of mankind.”
“Come From Away”
7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $31-$145.25. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org.
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