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New York firefighters give Gander, Nfld., steel from World Trade Center

Donated steel from the World Trade Center is a gift of thanks to the people of northeastern Newfoundland for answering the horror of 9/11 with open-hearted kindness and hospitality.

The Bethpage Fire Department on Long Island, N.Y., whose members were at the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, is donating a partial beam from one of the fallen skyscrapers.

It's to arrive in Gander, Nfld., in time for ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Gander's was the closest airport for 38 passenger jets forced to land when attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon closed U.S. airspace.

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Gander and nearby towns such as Gambo, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Appleton were celebrated for welcoming more than 6,500 stranded passengers as if they were family.

"It has a very special meaning to us and we don't want to just give it to anybody," Commissioner Glenn Neuman of the Bethpage Fire District said from Bethpage, N.Y.

The volunteer fire department received World Trade Center steel and used some of it for a memorial to Captain Brian Hickey. The New York firefighter died in the south tower as he tried to save those who were trapped after hijacked jetliners hit the buildings.

Remaining steel will be given to a local high school and some has been offered to Gander, Commissioner Neuman said Tuesday.

"You guys did a great service for us when the chips were down and it would be a fitting place for a memorial. You had a big contribution after 9/11.

"It's hard to believe 10 years have gone by."

Mike Fenster, a physical education teacher and coach in Bethpage, requested the steel for Gander.

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He was moved to strike up friendships in the town and organize a high school basketball exchange last year after watching an NBC story on Gander and Sept. 11, 2001. It first aired during coverage of the Vancouver Olympics.

"It's my way of saying thank you," Mr. Fenster said. "I did the best that I could to provide the most significant symbol of thanks."

The remnant from the World Trade Center is about four metres long and weighs around 1,200 kilograms, Commissioner Neuman said. A smaller piece can be cut down for transport to Gander, if necessary, he said.

The steel will become part of a memorial at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander, Mayor Claude Elliott said. It will be a tribute to those who died and to those who helped the living.

"It's an honour for us to receive it," Mr. Elliott said Tuesday. "It's certainly something that we'll cherish as a community to remind us of the good that we did, the bad that happened in the world, and to pay respect to the people that lost their lives during that terrible tragedy."

Alan Flood of Bristol, England, and his wife Barbara were halfway from London to Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, when their pilot announced they were heading for Gander.

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"We were halfway across the Atlantic and were informed that American airspace was closed and we were being redirected to Newfoundland," he said.

"It was mostly Americans on board, some British. An ex-army man said something serious was going on, that this was extraordinary."

After 12 hours on the tarmac in Gander as passengers from the long line of jets cleared security, Mr. Flood and his wife were offered water and sandwiches by local Red Cross volunteers and bused to Gander Academy, a nearby school.

It was only then that exhausted, disoriented passengers saw television coverage of the events that had rocked the U.S. that terrible day.

Over the next four days, the stress of a horrendous time was made easier by the welcome they received, Mr. Flood said.

"The Canadians – what wonderful, warm people. Even now, you get a little bit emotional thinking about it. They really looked after us and we're eternally grateful.

"We were strangers. They didn't know what we were like. They took us to their homes, made sure we wanted for nothing, treated us as part of the family.

"It was a good experience from that point of view."

The Canadian Press

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