Halifax airport marks 20th anniversary of 9/11

·3 min read
Aircraft sit wing tip to wing tip on the runway at the Halifax International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001. (Halifax International Airport Authority - image credit)
Aircraft sit wing tip to wing tip on the runway at the Halifax International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001. (Halifax International Airport Authority - image credit)

Not long after four co-ordinated terror strikes played out in the U.S. in 2001, Halifax's airport became a safe haven for thousands of passengers on flights forced out of the air during the chaos.

Forty aircraft carrying more than 7,000 people were diverted to Halifax Stanfield International Airport on 9/11, as staff worked to accommodate the sudden influx of anxious travellers.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, the airport hosted a ceremony Saturday.

Joyce Carter, president and CEO of the airport authority, began with a moment of silence for those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

Later, Carter recounted how the people of Nova Scotia "opened their hearts and their homes, and played an important role in supporting thousands of travellers and crew members from destinations around the world."

"It's hard to believe it's been 20 years. I can remember it like it was yesterday," said Carter, flanked by the Canadian and American flags, as well as fire trucks and other emergency vehicles just outside the doorway of a hangar near the airport.

"And while I am still very saddened to think about the day and to think about the loss of life, I'm also so grateful and so proud of the response and of the hospitality our community provided to those in need."

CBC
CBC

After passengers arrived in Halifax, they were boarded on buses and driven to makeshift shelters set up at churches and other buildings throughout the city. Residents also opened their homes to the stranded passengers, offering meals and beds.

Mark Seibel, who was acting as the U.S. consul general in Halifax on that day, said the kindness of Nova Scotians will always stay with him.

"The miracle Canadians pulled off in hosting so many people on such short notice, and the way in which it was done with such compassion, with such spontaneous flood of generosity on the part of so many ordinary people, touched me beyond words," said Seibel during a video presentation.

"It was the most splendid and wonderful thing that I witnessed in my entire career as a foreign service officer. I can never forget it. Thank you, Canada."

Seibel also attended the event in person, driving with his wife all the way from North Carolina.

At 8:46 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2001, the first in a series of attacks happened as American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Halifax International Airport Authority
Halifax International Airport Authority

A second plane crashed into the south tower 17 minutes later. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. ET and a fourth crashed to the ground outside Shanksville, Pa., shortly after 10 a.m.

An hour and 42 minutes after the first attack, the twin towers collapsed. About 3,000 people were killed that day in what's been called the worst terror attack in history.

Meanwhile, air traffic over the U.S. was shut down, forcing thousands of planes to land immediately.

For its help, the Halifax airport received expressions of thanks from around the globe.

Lufthansa Airlines named a plane in honour of Halifax. Former U.S. president George Bush wrote a thank-you letter and, in September 2006, he sent then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to the airport to host a reception to mark the fifth anniversary.

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