Maritimers reflect 20 years after 'the day the planes stood still'
TRURO, N.S. -- Thousands of Maritimers sprang into action on Sept. 11, 2001, displaying the rare ‘good’ that emerged from something so terrible and tragic.
Now retired, Art Ives will never forget this day 20 years ago.
His day started out as usual, managing the normal comings and goings at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
As the airport’s duty manager, Ives was busy the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 preparing for the expected arrival of then-Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien.
That never happened because everything changed with a with a mid-morning phone call.
“I got a phone call from one of my security people down at the south gate,” Ives recalls. “And he said, ‘Art, there's an aircraft that went into the World Trade Center’.”
At first, Ives didn’t know what to make of it. Then he saw the television news coverage from New York City. It was then he says he knew something wasn’t right. After the second tower was hit by another plane, the next call he received was from air traffic control.
“I said, how many we got coming?” Ives remembers. “He said, ‘40 to 50’. And I go, whoa, OK.”
The first plan, a United Airlines Flight, landed at 11:35 am.
Ives says after that, planes were coming in every three to four minutes, until they were all parked by 1:45 pm. After that, the skies were quiet.
But the 8,000 passengers aboard all those planes, couldn’t get off the airplanes right away.
Ives and the airport team, along with the Canadian Border Services agency and the RCMP, had to work out how to handle security and customs procedures.
The first passengers didn't disembark - until 3:30 p.m., only allowed to bring their carry-on luggage, which was all inspected by the RCMP’s canine unit.
Ives recalls the final passengers entering the terminal around 4:30 the next morning.
“That was a long day for them,” he says, “but we never had one complaint.”
He credits the entire airport team - for making it all happen.
“It clicked,” he says. “It never happened before, and I hope it never happens again, but it clicked.”
The next job was finding all those people places to stay.
They were housed in schools and auditoriums throughout the city and beyond, on military bases, in hotels, and many were billeted at people's homes.
The task of organizing it all falling to a legion of volunteers.
“And you made a couple of people's lives a little more bearable at a terrible time,” recalls Allan Lynch, who volunteered with the Canadian Red Cross at the time.
The Kentville, N.S. native found himself pitching in after following the lead of his then 77-year-old mother, Marie that Tuesday evening.
“My mother, instead of getting dressed for bed, she's getting dressed to go out,” Lynch recalls. “And I said, ‘What are you doing?’, and she said, ‘Well, I’ve been called to go help with the Red Cross’.”
Lynch went with her from Kentville into Halifax, then later followed her to assist at Camp Aldershot, a Canadian Armed Forces training facility in Kings County where 1,500 passengers were staying.
He says the next five days “were like being in a bubble”, with Lynch kept busy arranging accommodations, getting basic supplies like toothbrushes, and eventually sorting out flights back home.
Many passengers, he says, felt relief over landing safely - although there was sadness and tragedy, too.
In one case, he remembers a woman watching one of the large televisions at the makeshift shelter at Dartmouth High School, holding herself and rocking. He says she couldn’t seem to tear herself away from the images of New York. He later learned she lived there, and her apartment had looked out over the WTC towers.
“Then there was a young woman who had a miscarriage, because of the stress,” Lynch remembers. “There were highs and lows throughout the whole thing, but mostly there were a lot of smiles, once they knew they were safe.”
Looking back, both men say it's an experience that will always stay with them.
“It's the decency of people, it always shines through,” says Lynch.