The British product engineer Nick Marson, a British citizen, boarded his plane from London Gatwick on Tuesday morning to Houston. It was like every other Tuesday morning. 

At 52 years of age, the divorcee had a packed business trip in Texas planned. However, unbeknownstto him, his soon to be wife was on board the same plane.

Diane Kirschke, who was at the other end of Continental Airways’ flight five, had just finished a trip to see her son in England and was looking forward to returning to her home.   

Four hours later, the intercom chirped to life. A tight-lipped pilot then shared some unusual news.

“We will be diverting to Newfoundland and Canada.” The US has problems with its airspace.

At 9.00 AM local time smoke began to rise from the World Trade Centre in New York. Al-Qaeda terrorists also hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 and American Airlines Flight 77. They planned to smash the planes into Capitol and Pentagon.  

Famously, President George Bush received his briefing from a Florida classroom. CNN broadcast live footage of United Airlines flight 175, which crashed into the south tower. The entire world watched the event in silence.

However, Nick and Diane didn’t know that the terrorist attack on the most deadly inflicted in terror had occurred 1,467 miles from them as they prepared for landing in Gander (Newfoundland), in scorching September sunlight. 

They are just one example of many stories emerging from the tragedy of September 11, 2001, when nearly 7,000 passengers and crew members were left stranded. Pilots were also forced to take a five-day break to go to a rural settlement. 

Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center after they were hit by two hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 in New York City

Two hijacked Airliners hit the Twin Towers of World Trade Center in New York City on September 11th 2001. Smoke erupts from these twin towers.

Diane Kirschke and Nick Marson pose on their honeymoon in Gander in September 2002. The couple struck up an instant connection after their flight was diverted to the tiny Canadian town on 9/11

Nick Marson (right) and Diane Kirschke (left) on September 2002’s honeymoon in Gander. They struck up an immediate connection following their diverted flight to the small Canadian town of Gander on 9/11. 

Gander was once part the British Empire. In 1936, it became the official location for the British Empire’s airbase. This base would allow passengers to fly on the Great Circle route from New York City to London. 

The construction of Canada’s largest military base was agreed by Britain and America in 1938. Gander was used for more than 20,000 troops during the Second World War.  

Gander would become a civilian airbase, a secondary fuel source and an option for passengers if they needed to refuel. It was that way until September 11, 2001.

At 9 AM, all US airspace was closed for the first and sole time in US history. All 4,546 aircraft still in flight were directed to land at the nearest runway immediately or they would be shot down. 

Gander, with its long runways and ability to transport large jumbo planes up and down quickly, was one of only a few Canadian airbases equipped and available to provide temporary accommodation for thousands of tourist, holidaymakers, and cabin crew trapped in US airspace.

Nick and Diane Marson met after their plane was redirected after their plane was redirected from Texas to Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001

Nick and Diane Marson became friends after their plane went from Texas to Gander in Newfoundland on September 11, 2001.

By 9am, the entirety of US airspace was shut for the first - and only time - in history. The 4,546 planes still in the air were ordered to land immediately at the closest available runway, or risk being shot down. Pictured: Planes flooded the runway at Gander International Airport on September 11, 2001

At 9 AM, all US airspace was closed for the first and sole time in US history. Or, the planes that were still flying could be ordered to immediately land on the nearest runway. Pictured: On September 11, 2001, planes overflowed the runway at Gander International Airport.

With long and wide runways capable of shuttling jumbo jets up and down, Gander was one of the few Canadian airbases both capable and ready to temporarily accommodate the thousands of tourists, holidaymakers and cabin crew who were stranded above US airspace

Gander had long, wide runways that could transport jumbo jets, making it one of few Canadian bases that were both capable of accommodating the thousands of holidaymakers, tourists and cabin crew who found themselves trapped above US airspace.

Virgin Flight 75’s 337 passengers, who were flying to Orlando via Manchester from Manchester, was the first plane to touch down in Gander. Police officers established a perimeter around Virgin Flight 75’s jet as it touched down on the asphalt. They were unsure whether anyone aboard could pose a terrorist threat. 

In the following five days, 38 aircrafts with 6,700 passengers would arrive at Gander International Airport. This temporarily made the city home, and the number of residents nearly doubled. 

For many of the Operation Yellow Ribbon evacuees, the most memorable memory was the kindness that each one of Gander’s 10,000 residents extended to their fellow ‘planet people’.

Operation Yellow Ribbon: Canada’s support during the September 11th terrorist attacks

Canada started Operation Yellow Ribbon in response to the terrorist attack on September 11. 

This operation involved aircraft landing in many locations across Canada, including Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-and Labrador as well as British Columbia and Yukon.

This was done in the hope that any other potential threats would be constrained and eliminated. 

The aircraft were not dangerous, and many passengers were left in Canada unattended until September 13, when the US airspace was reopened. 

Total, between 215 and 240 planes were diverted at 17 Canadian airports, which affected between 35,000 to 45,000 people. 

To avoid panic and fear, many pilots failed to inform their passengers prior to landing. Sometimes, even pilots weren’t aware.  

Townfolk rushed to greet the new arrivals and provided shelter, food and clothing. The town’s residents even accepted them as Honorary Newfoundlanders in an old local tradition, the ‘Screech In’. 

Local volunteers raced to help those trapped on board the aircrafts as they waited in long lines at the runways. Off-duty air traffic controllers also arrived to assist.

School bus drivers, who were already in agreement to take industrial action a few weeks prior to this incident, dropped their plans for a picket and instead helped to transport people from the airport into the town.

Many others helped turn schools, churches and community centers into refuges for the homeless. 

Oz Fudge was the then town constable and said in an interview that Newfoundlanders were a distinct breed. Newfoundlanders like to hug someone and say, “It’s going all right.” I’m here”.

‘That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it always will be. And that’s the way it was on September 11.’  

Nick and Diane’s Continental 5 flight, which was the 36th plane that landed in Gander, would be their 37th. 

They arrived at the Pentagon after a 30 hour wait. After that, the pilot informed them of the terrible news: terrorists had taken four aircraft from the World Trade Centre.

Nick said, “Even though it sounded terrible, nobody realized how catastrophic it was until later.”

As suspicion remained high passengers were slowly let off the planes, one by one and without any luggage. The passengers who left the plane together and went through security would all be placed together. This meant that Diane and Nick stayed together for the next several days, sharing a room with many others at the Society of United Fisherman Hall. 

Diane was moved to another shelter 25 miles away after the first shelter she tried was too crowded. Nick was also there, and she found her husband. 

As they waited to get blankets from locals, their first meeting was when they both started having fun with the distinctively scented blankets.

Soon they would be sleeping together, Nick’s bed next to Dianes. 

‘If it hadn’t been for the generosity of the Newfoundlanders, taking us out, entertaining us, Diane and I would never have met,’ Nick revealed in an interview with The Sun.

Diane, 80, said that they were open and friendly. They were so welcoming.

“They did not care about who you were or where you came, how much you had in your pocket, what type of work you did. They just wanted to help us. 

The shelter was a place where the couple could watch 24-hour news footage that showed the terror of the attacks. They felt both fear and gratitude for their safety.

“It was almost like watching a film. WOW! Did that actually happen? It was almost impossible to imagine,’ Diane added, adding, “You didn’t really know what you were thinking.” Because that plane could have been yours, you knew that you were safe.  

Diane and Nick would end up sleeping side by side at the Society of United Fishermen Hall, where displaced plane passengers were temporarily housed on September 12, 2001

Nick and Diane ended up sharing a bed at the Society of United Fishermen Hall where they were temporarily accommodated for displaced flight passengers on September 12, 2001.

Nick and Diane's first encounter came as they lined up to collect blankets that had been arranged by locals, when they started laughing over their distinctly scented covers and realised they had been aboard the same flight

Nick and Diane met their first time when they were waiting to pick up blankets which had been donated by locals. They started laughing at the distinctly-scented covers, and realized that they were on the same flight.

Nick would end up proposing to Diane two months after they met at a temporary shelter in Gander following the 9/11 terror attacks. They married on September 7, 2002

Two months later, Nick proposed to Diane after meeting at Gander’s temporary shelter following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The couple were married September 7, 2002

While Nick was in Houston for work, they met up on several occasions before he returned to England. Despite the six-hour time distance between them, they continued their romance with a long-distance relationship

They met several times while Nick was visiting Houston to meet up for work. He returned home to England shortly after they had been together. They continued their relationship despite the distance of six hours.

Nick and Diane decided to go for a short walk the following day in an attempt to get away from all the media coverage. While Nick was looking for snacks to eat, Diane surprised Nick by buying both. 

It was because she had an ulterior motive for buying it. He said, “If I had bought it then he might almost feel forced to go into the park and sit. . . Continue talking. Talk some more.

The honorary Newfoundlanders were conferred upon them by participating in the’screechin’ ceremony later that evening. They each had a screech, a Newfoundland Rum, to drink, then sang about their origins and kissed cods.

Even though they only knew each other briefly, the man who conducted the ceremony assumed Nick and Diane were already married. He discovered they were not married and offered to make them his wife. 

During their courtship the couple didn’t have their luggage so they wore the clothes that they had worn on their travels for their five first days. Diane made the most of her situation, and she woke up earlier each morning to put on make-up than Nick. 

Diane and the attackers left Gander Saturday morning. Diane recalls crying as they boarded the school bus for the trip to Gander. They shared their first kiss together on that return bus trip from North Atlantic island. 

Nick stated that they sat together in the cockpit of the airplane going home. We were canoodling. It’s easy to imagine two 50-year old men canoodling.

Nick visited Houston to work and they met several times before Nick returned home to England. Even though they were six hours apart, their love blossomed with long distance relationships.   

Two months and two months later, Nick called Diane to propose in November 2001. She bought an apartment in Texas within weeks.

After months of splitting his time between Texas and England, he permanently relocated to Houston that May. The two said 'I do' on September 7, 2002, four days before the anniversary of 9/11 and their first meeting

He moved to Houston in May 2002 after months of living between England and Texas. They were married on September 7, 2002. This was four days prior to the 9/11 anniversary and their first encounter.

Nick Marson, 72, and his now-wife Diane, 80, met when they were stranded in Newfoundland after the 9/11 terror attacks

Nick Marson, 72, and his now-wife Diane, 80, met when they were stranded in Newfoundland after the 9/11 terror attacks

For the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011, they returned to Gander to thank the people of Newfoundland for their hospitality during the tragedy. Pictured: The couple celebrating Diane's 80th birthday in August 2021

The couple returned to Gander for the 10th anniversary in 2011 of September 11, 2001, to express gratitude to Newfoundlanders for their support during this tragedy. Pictured: Diane celebrating her 80th birthday on August 20, 2021

And two decades later, the pair reflected on how the experience changed them as people. Pictured: Diane and Nick Marson with the Mayor of Gambo, Lloyd Noseworthy (centre)

The experience has shaped them both as individuals, and they reflect upon it two decades later. Pictured are Diane and Nick Marson (center) with Lloyd Noseworthy, the Mayor of Gambo.

After spending months splitting his time between Texas, England and Texas, he finally moved permanently to Houston in May. They were married on September 7, 2002. This was four days prior to the 9/11 anniversary and their first encounter.

The couple traveled to Gander to visit their friends from the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. They were then surprised to find out that there was a wedding reception.

However, the couple shared that their fairytale was kept secret by surviving guilt for several years.

Nick stated that ‘Over 3000 people were killed in the Towers. So, over 3,000 families were affected by the events.

“What has happened to us?” He made us feel so content. We weren’t comfortable with that. Why not?  

The family returned to Gander for the 10th anniversary in 2011 of the attacks on September 11, 2001, to show their appreciation to Newfoundlanders who were so kind during that time. Diane shared that one journey changed the trajectory of each person’s lives with The Canadian Press.

They are immortalized in Tony-award winning musical Come From Away. This was inspired in part by actual people and events that happened in Gander during 9/11 and the subsequent days.

After a world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, the musical was performed in Seattle, Washington D.C. and Toronto. The musical debuted on Broadway in 2017. Nick and Diane have seen it more than 100 times. 

Nick and Diane celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary earlier in the year. The extraordinary story of Nick and Diane’s marriage that began in the chaos of the greatest terrorist attack in human history is now immortalized in film, documentary, and Broadway shows. 

Operation Yellow Ribbon proved to be a huge success. More than 250 planes carrying almost 44,000 passengers were safely diverted to 15 Canadian airports by the close of the week on September 16. 

For those of you who found yourself temporarily in Gander or in any Canadian city during September 2001, what really stood out was the incredible kindness shown by strangers.

Other stories have also been featured in the media, such as the story of a department store owner who shared a toy warehouse with the children on the stranded flight. Gander women also gave her car keys and insisted that they be used whenever necessary. 

Claude Elliott was the former Mayor of Gander and he summed up the city’s philosophy in a succinct way. 

“Helping people is what we think the most important thing in our lives.” 

Constable Fudge told The Times that she still gets many messages thanking her and Gander residents. 

“I have spoken to many people and always asked them why they did what they did. It’s not clear to them.

“They tell me that it’s normal. I don’t know what the fuss is all about.