A variety of unscheduled flights touched down, buses pulled onto the airfield and helping hands filled every corner of Winnipeg International Airport on the devastating day of September 11, 2001.
As the crisis unfolded and the U.S. sealed off its airspace, a total of 224 flights carrying more than 33,000 passengers were diverted to airports across Canada. The country’s airspace closed soon after for the first time in history in step with Canadian communities rallying to do what they could for those relocated or stranded that day.
At YWG, activity on the runways accelerated significantly as 17 flights were instructed to land in the heart of the prairies - 14 with domestic itineraries and three international arrivals. Across the airfield, 17 Wing Winnipeg provided space for some of the diverted aircraft to park and for required protocols to be carried out. In the flurry of having 1,500 travellers arrive on a moment’s notice, the community mobilized quickly to help provide shelter, food and transportation, as well as other essential services, in the hours and days ahead.
Winnipeg Transit buses bustled in and out of the airfield to help travellers make their way to hotels, some of which were reported to be as far away as Gimli. At the same time, health authorities provided essential support in the terminal and local translation services were relied upon to communicate critical information to travellers. As government bodies, airport partners, the military, transportation and hotel providers and many others took action to assist wherever possible, these acts of hospitality were later honoured in a special fashion.
Two days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a small ceremony was held inside the old terminal building at YWG. The U.S. consulate in collaboration with Winnipeg Airports Authority acknowledged the anniversary with a formal presentation, where the then U.S. consul, Tim Cipullo, recognized the tremendous response and generosity of the entire community.
“This is part of the larger story of how Canada stood by the United States on that day and in years after,” said Cipullo. “The people of the United States are very grateful for this friendship.”
This week marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The entire aviation industry and WAA will always remember the events of that day and the actions of those in the surrounding community.
“Twenty years later, this anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on and extend our thoughts to those who were impacted by the events of 9/11 and to thank those who united under pressure to provide care, safety and essential support in a time of need and uncertainty across North America,” said Barry Rempel, President and CEO of WAA.
The impacts of one day in 2001 would forever change the air transportation industry in many ways and the collective response of Manitobans will never be forgotten.