The strangers who fell in love when 9/11 diverted their flight

Twenty years in the past, Nick Marson and Diane Kirschke have been strangers on board Continental Airways flight 5 travelling from London Gatwick to Houston, Texas.

4 hours or so into the flight, the pilot came visiting the intercom and introduced the airplane could be diverting to Newfoundland, Canada.

“There are issues in U.S. airspace,” the captain mentioned, giving no additional particulars.

Nick was a British businessman in his 50s who labored within the oil business. He was heading to Texas for work, and had no thought the place Newfoundland was.

“I seemed out the window as a result of I believed he won’t be telling us the reality, and perhaps an engine was on hearth,” Nick tells CNN Journey as we speak.

On the different finish of the plane, Diane took within the information. An American divorcee who’d simply turned 60, she was coming back from visiting her son, who was within the U.S. Air Power and stationed in England.

“I believed, ‘Canada, I’ve by no means been to Canada. That feels like an journey,” Diane remembers as we speak.

It was September 11, 2001. Following the terrorist assaults in New York and Washington, the U.S. airspace closed and, below an effort dubbed Operation Yellow Ribbon, greater than 2 hundred business plane heading to the U.S. diverted to Canada.

Nick and Diane’s flight rerouted to Gander — a rural city with a inhabitants of simply 10,000, dwelling to an airport whose historical past as a refuelling spot for pre-jet engine plane left it with runways to rival far greater cities.

As Continental 5 approached Newfoundland, Nick noticed dozens of planes lined up in rows. He deserted his suspicion that there was a technical subject.

“We have been the thirty sixth airplane out of 38 to land — so clearly not everyone had an issue with their airplane,” says Nick.

When Continental 5 landed, the captain instructed passengers there had been terrorist exercise within the U.S. and airplanes had flown into the World Commerce Middle and the Pentagon.

“Regardless that that sounded horrific, no one realized how devastating it was till someday later,” says Nick.

In 2001, nobody might learn the information on their mobile phone. Nobody had Web on their cell telephones. Nobody had worldwide protection. Many individuals did not have cell telephones in any respect.

Diane remembers being extraordinarily nervous about her household in the US, and fretting that she could not reassure them of her personal security.

This state of uncertainty continued for greater than 24 hours.

Whereas the airplanes have been caught on the runways, volunteers throughout Gander and its neighbouring cities delivered meals and provides to the jets, and ready makeshift shelters in colleges, schools and group facilities across the area.

Some 7,000 folks have been about to descend on their group, nearly doubling Gander’s inhabitants.

When the displaced vacationers have been lastly permitted to deplane it was September 12. One plane at a time, no baggage allowed, the passengers disembarked.

After they acquired by safety, they have been greeted with smiles and reassurance.

“They have been so pleasant and open,” says Diane of the Gander volunteers. “They simply welcomed us. They did not care who you have been, the place you got here from, how a lot cash was in your pockets, what sort of job you probably did — we simply wanted assist, they usually have been going to maintain us.”

Nick was taken to a small shelter in Gambo, about 30 miles exterior of Gander. The Society of United Fisherman was the most important construction within the city, often reserved for weddings, bingo or city conferences.

A number of hours later — after a detour to a Gander shelter that was full — Diane ended up there too.

It was on the shelters that the “airplane folks” — because the Newfoundlanders referred to as the incomers — lastly noticed the horrifying TV footage that had reverberated all over the world, and realized the true extent of what had occurred on September 11.

Volunteers had arrange telephones, and Diane contacted her household to allow them to know she was protected, and likewise realized they have been all OK.

The “airplane folks” lined as much as gather blankets and provides. As Diane was handed hers, she commented to herself that it smelled of mothballs.

“Camphor,” mentioned a voice behind her.

It was Nick. The 2 began chatting, first discovering humor within the distinctly scented blankets, after which realizing they’d been on the identical airplane heading to Texas.

On this unknown — albeit very pleasant — place, this coincidence appeared like one thing to carry on to.

“I requested Diane if I might take the cot subsequent to hers. and he or she mentioned, ‘Certain, why not,'” remembers Nick.


The following morning, Nick and Diane went out for some recent air. They wanted a break from continually watching the information.

“It was simply an excessive amount of to take a seat there and watch these horrible scenes time and again,” says Diane.

They have been joined at first by one other couple, who then fell again. Quickly it was simply Nick and Diane.

“We’re chatting away, and making an attempt to move the time, having fun with one another’s firm,” remembers Nick.

En route, they stopped at a comfort retailer to select up some sodas and path combine. Nick tried to pay, however Diane beat him to it.

“Nicely, I had an ulterior motive,” says Diane, laughing. She was having fun with Nick’s firm — and he or she figured her paying for his or her morsels would guarantee Nick caught round.

She thought he was attention-grabbing, she remembers, and an actual gentleman.

As for Nick, he thought Diane was handsome and was actually having fun with chatting along with her.

That they had heaps to speak about — each divorced, with grownup kids, and near their households. There have been cultural variations, however they’d shared values.

After they returned to the shelter, they discovered the cots had been quickly cleared away and night leisure was underway.

The Newfoundland volunteers have been initiating the “airplane folks” into an area custom often known as a Screech-In — a approach of designating guests “honorary Newfoundlanders.”

There are a number of steps to the method, together with ingesting a shot of screech and kissing a cod fish.

Screech, explains Nick, tastes like “dangerous Jamaican rum.”

Nick purchased Diane a beer they usually embraced the ceremony — kissing the cod and all.

When it was Diane’s flip, the grasp of ceremonies requested her the place she was from. She defined she lived in Texas.

The MC then moved on to Nick.

“What a part of Texas you from, buddy?” he requested.

“Oh no, I am from England,” defined Nick.

“Nicely, how does it work?” requested the MC.

Nick was confused.

“How does your marriage work?” clarified the MC, gesturing to Diane.

Nick and Diane defined they weren’t married — it turned out everybody else had figured they have been.

The MC, amused, mentioned he was a justice of the peace. “Do you wish to be married?” he requested Nick and Diane.

Diane laughed. “Why not?” she mentioned, barely giddy from the alcohol.

Reflecting on this second as we speak, Diane says she felt a freedom in being in a spot the place nobody knew her.

“You did not have to play your regular function,” she says. “I wasn’t my child’s mother or my grandchildren’s grandmother. I wasn’t the girl subsequent door. No one there knew me. I might be foolish if I wished to.”

And for the remainder of the night, Diane’s reply saved operating by Nick’s thoughts.


The following day, among the locals took the now-honorary-Newfoundlanders on an outing to a spectacular native lookout, the Dover Fault.

“It is a wonderful outlook, about 200 foot above the place the river and the ocean come collectively,” says Diane.

The location was fashioned when two continents collided tens of millions of years in the past, and later separated.

Nick had an early digital digicam with him. He’d already snapped a photograph of the second the Continental 5 passengers had disembarked, in addition to pictures of the shelter with its makeshift beds.

However there was just one image he actually wished from his detour to Newfoundland — a photograph of Diane.

“I wanted an image to remind me that I hadn’t dreamed all this up, these magical days, they really actually occurred,” he says now.

His digicam did not have a zoom operate, so he needed to get fairly near get her within the shot.

“I supplied to get out of the best way, as a result of I believed he wished an image of this stunning scenic spot,” remembers Diane.

“I had little interest in the scenic view,” says Nick.

He instructed her to not transfer, and that the view he had was good.

“I knew then that it was he was enthusiastic about me and never the surroundings,” says Diane. “In order that form of modified the dynamics slightly bit.”

As they stood admiring the vista, each Diane and Nick thought of the unlikeliness of their assembly.

“I had a really settled life,” says Diane. “I had a pleasant little residence. I had a job that I loved and colleagues and buddies.”

“Neither one in every of us acquired on that airplane on the lookout for a romantic encounter,” says Nick.


5 days after the planes had landed in Gander, the decision got here that plane have been permitted to go away.

Buses rounded up the passengers who’d been scattered throughout the native cities. One after the other, the planes departed.

“We boarded the varsity bus, and it was raining,” remembers Diane. “I used to be a bit upset as a result of we have been leaving these fantastic folks — and I might gotten to know them and their kids, they usually’d been so candy to us — and I knew I might by no means see them once more. And I in all probability wasn’t ever going to see Nick once more both. So I used to be very teary.”

Nick, sat subsequent to Diane, realized she was welling up. He put his arm round her, and went to kiss on her brow as a comforting gesture.

“I believed that is my probability,” remembers Diane. “So I simply grabbed him and gave him a pleasant huge kiss.”

On their flight to Texas, Nick and Diane sat subsequent to 1 one other. Nick says they have been “canoodling” the entire journey.

Halfway by the flight, a flight attendant walked down the aisle, providing scorching towels to passengers. When she approached Nick and Diane, she raised an eyebrow.

“Chilly towel?” she requested.

Nick stayed in Houston for a number of days, checking in with work there. Within the evenings, Diane took him out for meals at her favorite eating places, and earlier than Nick left they exchanged e mail addresses and phone numbers.

Then he needed to depart.

“It was very troublesome flying again to England alone. That was an actual emotional low,” says Nick.


Again of their respective dwelling nations, Nick and Diane struggled to return to phrases with the truth that they’d fallen for somebody within the context of such devastating occasions.

They saved in common contact, writing lengthy emails about how they have been feeling, and about their lives on reverse sides of the Atlantic.

In October 2001, Nick satisfied his workplace that he needed to return to Houston to test on a piece mission.

“I wanted to guarantee that Diane was actually the person who I remembered, and I hadn’t sort of embroidered her slightly bit in my thoughts,” he says.

She was — and the go to clarified in each their minds that they wished to be collectively.

A month later, in early November 2001, Nick referred to as Diane from his automobile.

“I instructed her I used to be on my knee,” he says.

He proposed.

Overjoyed, Diane mentioned sure.

“We felt that this was destined to be,” she says as we speak. “Who might go towards destiny?”

The 2 began planning their future collectively. Diane offered her one bed room residence and purchased a bigger home, and that December, Nick persuaded the corporate he labored for in England to switch him to Houston.

In March 2002, Diane launched Nick to her household for the primary time. Diane says they shortly fell for him too — they are saying all their family members have been stunned, however supportive.

After a number of months of navigating the crimson tape concerned in marrying somebody from one other nation, in September 2002 — nearly precisely a yr after they’d met — Nick and Diane have been married at their dwelling in Houston. She took his identify, they usually grew to become Nick and Diane Marson.

When it got here to planning their honeymoon, there was no query about it — the Marsons have been returning to Newfoundland.

The couple have been excited to see stunning websites just like the Dover Fault once more, however Nick and Diane additionally wished to host a small get collectively to thank the Newfoundlanders for his or her hospitality the yr earlier than. They’d stayed in contact with most of the folks they’d met, and felt they owed them a lot.

“They might have left us on the airplane. They might have even left us within the hangar,” says Nick.

“They took us to their hearts and houses,” says Diane.

However Nick and Diane underestimated — as soon as once more — the extent of the Newfoundlanders hospitality.

“We flip up and there is a full blown wedding ceremony reception,” remembers Nick.

“Full with a multi-layer wedding ceremony cake, items, candlelight, the top desk had champagne…” provides Diane.

The Mayor of Gambo had even written the 2 a track. He carried out it there after which, singing about how Nick and Diane had met in Newfoundland, fell in love and acquired married.


Throughout their return journey to Newfoundland in 2002, phrase unfold that two of the “airplane folks” had fallen in love.

Just a few media shops reached out to Nick and Diane, however the couple had no want to share their story at that stage.

“We have been affected by what’s referred to as survivor’s guilt,” says Nick. “We did not really feel comfy with what we might discovered within the wake of so many disasters.”

“Three thousand households had misplaced somebody,” says Diane. “And right here we might discovered happiness.”

It wasn’t till 2009 that they shared their story, as a part of U.S. newscaster Tom Brokaw’s documentary about Operation Yellow Ribbon.

A pair years later, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Nick and Diane have been visiting Gander, and have been approached by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, composer-lyricists who defined they’d obtained a grant from the Canadian authorities to provide a present about what occurred in Newfoundland within the wake of September 11.

That is how Nick and Diane’s story grew to become one in every of a number of tales woven into the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical “Come From Away,” through which a forged of 12 play a number of roles, from the Gander residents to the “airplane folks.”

The primary time the couple noticed the present in Canada in 2013, it was an emotional expertise. They could not imagine how precisely the musical instructed their story, and the way properly it evoked the environment in Newfoundland that week.

“It is only a testimony to the generosity, the friendship and the openness of the Newfoundland folks,” says Diane. “It is a 9/12 story. It is the aftermath of what occurred on 9/11. However on 9/12, love reigned.”

Since its premier, “Come From Away” has been heralded all over the world and now a filmed model of the award-winning present is ready to premiere internationally on Apple TV+ on September 10, 2021.

“We have seen the present 118 instances,” says Nick. “Diane will say it is like we’re renewing our vows each time we see it.”


Because the world displays on the 20 years since 9/11, it is also twenty years since Nick and Diane first met, and 19 years since their wedding ceremony day.

Over the previous twenty years — in between watching their love story resonate in theaters throughout the globe — the couple have navigated the humorous conditions that generally come up from their cultural variations, and supported each other by the highs and lows of life.

“Regardless that we had variations of tradition and buddies, and every thing else, there was a kernel of affection there — we knew that we have been every searching for one another,” says Diane of their years collectively to this point. “There was a variety of belief between us.”

Throughout their 5 days stranded in Newfoundland, Nick and Diane have been compelled to dwell for the day — it was that mindset led them collectively and it is a mantra they’ve caught with within the years since.

“Benefit from each day, profit from it,” says Diane. “As a result of who is aware of what number of days anybody has.”


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