Couple stuck in Canada after 9/11 hail kind family

Tara Washington (left) and mother-in-law Gill
Tara Washington (left), pictured with mother-in-law Gill, had got married two days earlier, on 9 September 2001 [BBC]

A woman who got stranded in Canada with her new husband on the day of the 9/11 attacks says a family who took them in gave them "so much more" than their planned honeymoon.

Stories like theirs have now been dramatised in a musical - Come From Away - which tells of how small towns in Newfoundland welcomed in 7,000 air travellers, when the US closed its airspace in 2001.

Tara Washington, from Bromsgrove, had married Steve on 9 September, and the couple were due to go to Las Vegas and elsewhere, but instead experienced "real human kindness" from a family they remain in touch with.

The decision to close US airspace was in response to terrorists deliberately flying jets into New York's World Trade Center and other key sites, including The Pentagon, on 11 September.

Although she has been told the musical - currently showing at Birmingham Hippodrome - is "amazing", Mrs Washington has not seen it because she wants "to keep hold of my story".

The first inkling that something unusual was happening that day was looking out of the windows on her Chicago-bound flight, to see fuel being dumped.

The captain then announced that they would be landing in Newfoundland, but "we didn't have phones on the plane, we had literally no idea what was happening", Mrs Washington said.

Up to 40 planes ended up having to land at Gander airport and while they heard information about the terror attack on the BBC's World Service, it only "hit us" about what had happened, when a TV was set up at a church.

'Padded pews'

Mrs Washington, now 55, said: "We could see all these 30-odd planes all stacked up on the runway.

"Then we were put onto yellow school buses. We weren't allowed to take anything with us, just what we've got in our hands."

The couple ended up with hundreds of people at a church where they all tried to bed down for the night.

"Because we were newlyweds, they'd given us some padded pews. We didn't have the uncomfortable stage that was just wooden.

"[Then] someone came and said, 'Someone's heard that there [are] newlyweds... they'd really like to take you in as a family'.

"I could have cried. It was just such a kind thing."

For five days the couple were with the Russell family, who set up the basement for them, and "because we were English, they thought we were royalty".

Their hosts "fed us, drove us around... it was literally like moving in with family."

Mrs Washington said: "We'd booked to go to Vegas, we were going to San Francisco, then we were going to Hawaii.

"But actually on reflection, they gave us something so much more. We have such a strong bond with them."

Ultimately, the couple did manage to also get to San Francisco for a day and Hawaii.

Back in the UK, her mother-in-law Gill Washington did not find out what happened to the couple until 12 September.

She said the storytelling in the musical was "incredible", adding: "The acting was remarkable, how they remembered it all I just don't know.

"They changed their personas by changing their head gear or changing their jacket."

But her daughter-in-law says she will still not be going to watch the show.

"It's not that I don't want to see it, but I just feel like my story's my story and I'm really attached to that," she said.

"I love telling my story and the kindness that we experienced."

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