On September 11, 2001, Terrorists flew airliners intro both Towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City, the Pentagon, near Washington, D.C., and Passengers forced “Flight 93” to crash land in a rural field in Western Pennsylvania, killing all aboard. So, there now was a conundrum for International Air Traffic Officials–where to divert incoming flights to?
Luckily, there was somewhat of a solution. In 1936, construction on an international airport had begun near the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. Now, the town has barely a current population of 10,000; however, it was decided back in 1935 that a potential landing site should be established in Northeast North America in the event that a diversion might be required, such as for medical or mechanical reasons. An interesting photo of the runway at Gander, on that horrendous date, is linked as follows: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/1258678.
Keep in mind that a town of 9.650 people (then) is not going to be a place to expect numerous hotels, restaurants and other accommodations. On that day, 38 civilian and four military flights were diverted to Gander International Airport, with more than 6,600 passengers and crew on board–the equivalent of 66% of the Town’s population. Some interesting facts are linked, as follows, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gander,_Newfoundland_and_Labrador.
It is important to note that Canadian Officials decided that flights would not be allowed to land at major airports in the center of the Country, because of the concern with terrorism, as well. Generally, flights that land in Gander are only in the airport for short time periods while: a plane is refueled; a sick passenger is removed to be sent to a hospital or a replacement plane can be sent by the airline in question. But, their stay in Gander, back in 2001, lasted for six days–until the airspace was reopened and flights were resumed.
I would point-out that a similar situation occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia; however, that is a much larger city. There is an interesting book, “The Day the World Came to Town”. It describes how the Town of Gander responded: people opened their homes to strangers; hospitals, schools, houses of worship took guests in and, virtually, everyone in town made the visitors feel welcome. Lufthansa subsequently named an Airbus 340 Gander/Halifax.