Irene Sankoff and David Hein's US musical Come From Away arrives in London this month. It's a piece based on the remarkable true story of what happened when hundreds of planes were diverted from their US destinations to towns in Canada immediately after the 9/11 attacks. The piece is set in Gander, one of the towns which took 38 planes, and the stories in it are all based on real events. Here are a few of the remarkable truths behind the piece.
There were a lot of planes
In total, 255 planes were diverted to several towns across Canada, with 38 of those diverted to Gander in Newfoundland. Gander airport is one of Canada's biggest airports (despite being a town of just under 10,000 people) and when it first opened in 1938 it was the largest airport in the world. That didn't stop overcrowding though – because of the heat and weight, several of the planes started sinking into the tarmac.
The planes brought a lot of people
There were 7,000 people who arrived in Gander alone, which almost doubled the population of the town for four days and put huge pressure on the place's resources with people scrabbling to use the few phones and clearing supermarkets out of essentials. All the townsfolk came together to help and welcome the arrivals, however, offering their homes, food and entertainment to the lost and bewildered journeyers.
There were some animal worries
There weren't just people on those planes – there were animals in the plane holds too. The character of Bonnie in the show is based on the real life of head of Gander area SPCA (the equivalent of our RSPCA). She managed to get into the cargo holds of the planes to search for any animals. She found 11 dogs, nine cats and a pair of rare Bonobo apes and set up a makeshift vets in one of the empty aircraft hangars.
The people on the planes weren't let off them for 28 hours
Because there was a security threat, once the planes had landed, the people on them had to stay put for a further day on the runway. In the days before social media and smart phones, they had no way of knowing what was going on. Once they were allowed off, they could only take their hand luggage with them. There's a song in the musical called "28 Hours" which references how long they were stuck in the planes.
The pilot is a real woman
Beverley Bass is based on the real Beverley Bass. She became American Airline's first female captain and captain of the world's first all-female crew. In London, she is played by Rachel Tucker and the lyrics from her song "Me and the Sky" are almost verbatim from the interviews Irene Sankoff and David Hein did with her. She's a big fan of the show, having seen it over 120 times.
Love was in the air
Despite the tragedy, good things blossomed out of the time spent in Canada. British Nick and American Diane were on the same plane, but only met when they were off their plane and in Gander. After spending time together in the town, the two got along famously and eventually married – heading back to Newfoundland for their honeymoon.
The visitors said thank you
Though none of the residents would accept money for helping the visitors, $15,000 dollars were pledged to the town of Gander before the planes had even got back to their original destinations. Much more money was raised subsequently which is put into a scholarship fund for the children of Gander.