Rod Markin of Omaha is about to see a slice of his life played out onstage.
He’ll be in the audience Wednesday night when “Come From Away” premieres at the Orpheum Theater. The 100-minute musical is about the interactions between 6,700 airline passengers and their Canadian hosts after their jetliners were grounded in Newfoundland on 9/11.
Markin was on one of those planes, and he spent a week in St. John’s. But until recently, he said, he hadn’t thought much about it for at least 15 years.
“It was one of life’s many experiences,” said Markin, a longtime physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “You don’t sign up for it. It happens and you make the best of it.”
Of course, he remembers it vividly. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a defining event for at least two generations of Americans. We all remember where we were when it happened.
Markin and his wife were on their way home from taking their son to the Manchester Institute of Technology in Britain, where he would study abroad for a year through Nebraska Wesleyan University.
They wanted to be sure he was settled, with a cellphone and a bank account. They were satisfied that he’d be fine a couple of days before they planned to leave, so they changed their plane tickets to Sept. 11 and headed home.
“About six hours into the flight, the pilot comes on and says there’s trouble with air traffic control on the East Coast, so we’re going to Newfoundland to land,” Markin said.
Routine stuff, he thought at the time.
They taxied, parked by the gate and waited. For hours. The plane was surrounded by Royal Canadian Mounted Police, so they were beginning to suspect something was up.
Finally, the pilot spoke again.
“Here’s the real story,” Markin said he told them. “The U.S. has been attacked.”
Passengers found out that planes had been used as weapons in New York City and Washington, D.C.
They were fairly calm but all wondered how they would contact loved ones. Nobody had a cellphone that would work in Canada, except Markin. He had been to a recent conference there and had purchased a plan that still was in place.
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“Everybody lined up and used my cellphone to call people they needed to call,” Markin said, offering an example of the themes behind “Come From Away,” which deals with how the passengers bonded among themselves and with the Canadians.
When they finally got off the plane, passengers couldn’t take anything with them — no luggage, briefcases, carry-ons. Only purses. An army of buses took them to a hockey stadium, where they were divided into groups for transport to housing.
The Markins ended up with about 60 people at a Salvation Army church, where they slept on a tile floor — no mattresses or even mats — with a blanket and pillow. Newfoundland wasn’t prepared for an influx of visitors on short notice. In addition to St. John’s, population 108,000 or so, the planes landed in Gander, population 11,000 and change.
‘There were no extra cots or anything. It’s not like they were sitting around waiting for people to drop by. It was a calamity,” Markin said.
There also were no showers. There was a large-screen TV, but it was tuned to CNN for continuous coverage the entire time they were there. They had a lot of time to think.
“A guy who had a kidney transplant slept next to me,” Markin said, “and he started to feel bad and was afraid it was being rejected.”
They took him to a nearby clinic. He had a sinus infection.
Some people didn’t realize that they were on a remote island. They left the church vowing to rent a car and get home. Nobody stopped them, knowing they’d be back in a few days. And they were.
A representative of the Canadian government said they sent the planes to smaller airports by design. Not knowing whether the attacks were over, they wanted to avoid large population areas.
“We never gave a second thought on whether to accept (the flights),” said Ariel Delouya, consul general at the Canadian Consulate in Minneapolis, who was a high-ranking official in the government at the time. “We all agreed, with an important caveat: None would fly to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.”
Delouya credited the success of what came to be known as “Operation Yellow Ribbon” to the two countries’ long friendship.
The Newfoundlanders were amazing, Markin said: “They were the nicest people in the world.”
Four days in, the Markins walked to a nearby store to buy personal care supplies and new clothes. Their hosts took them to a nearby house, where they had their first showers. The homeowner provided coffee and cookies. They threw away the clothes they had been wearing.
Tim Horton’s, a popular Canadian chain, provided coffee and pastries every day. At night, their hosts grilled freshly caught fish and they all ate on picnic tables. An acre or so of land surrounded the church, and the passengers were able to take walks and enjoy Newfoundland’s beauty.
On the seventh day, with an hour’s notice, the Markins boarded the same jetliner, sat in the same seats (his briefcase was in exactly the same place) and flew home to Omaha via Atlanta, where they stopped long enough to have a non-fish-and-doughnuts meal.
Markin picked up where he left off, working as a pathologist on the transplant team at UNMC, where he also is associate vice chancellor for business development. His wife, a longtime teacher, returned to the classroom. She died in 2011 after 34 years of marriage. Markin remarried a couple of years ago.
He’s eager to see “Come From Away” and meet Consul General Delouya, who also is attending the opening-night performance and a reception afterward.
“It will be interesting because it’s based on an experience different from mine,” Markin said.
Unlike the play’s characters, he didn’t form lifelong friendships, perhaps because he wasn’t alone on his trip. He and his wife had conversations with their hosts and fellow travelers but relied on each other for comfort.
He does, however, have the same warm feelings about his Canadian hosts that come out in the show.
“The circumstances would have been different if the people in Canada hadn’t been so accommodating,” he said. “It was remarkable the way they took care of us.”
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Major League Baseball debuted in Omaha on Thursday June 13th as the Royals faced the Tigers at TD Ameritrade Park.
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Omaha Burke's Jaylon Roussell jogged the field people to participating in the Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday Night Lights event at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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Te'Andi Titus, left, and Kevin Kalaw, both of Omaha, read on the dock at Standing Bear Lake as a cool breeze swept over the lake, keeping the mosquitoes at bay.
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Michigan's Jordan Brewer and Jack Blomgren celebrated after defeating Vanderbilt in their College World Series game.
A B-2 stealth bomber flew over as Michigan stands during the National Anthem before their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt faces Michigan during their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt's Harrison Ray signed autographs before the start of game 3 of the CWS championship.
Vanderbilt fans celebrate at the Commodores capture a national title with a win over Michigan.
Michigan players mingled prior to their College World Series game against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt celebrated their win over Michigan during the third game of the champion series of the College World Series.
Chris Isaak performed at the free Memorial Park Concert at Memorial Park.
Omaha firefighter David Kirchofer provided water to Louie the dog, after Kirchofer helped battle a a fire at 5427 86th Court. Louie, who does not live in the unit that caught fire, was interested in all the action.
Ray Renk of San Francisco, California, holds his daughter Kennedy, 8, alongside his son Benjamin, 10, while sporting personalized suits and watching Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, walk the convention floor during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Phoebe the giraffe eats lettuce fed by visitors as the Lincoln Children's Zoo provides a sneak peek at their new exhibits and expansion in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thursday, May 9, 2019.
Lincoln Southeast’s Katie Whitehead, center, and Caroline Miller, right, celebrate with teammates including Ally Keitges, left, after winning the No. 1 doubles against Millard North during the NSAA Class A girls state tennis championship match at Koch Family Tennis Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Friday, May 17, 2019.
Omaha Bryanâ€™s Darwin Loftin lands a long jump during the Metro Conference track meet at Omaha Burke.
Millard West's Corbin Hawkins waits out the rain delay in the dugout. The baseball game between Millard West and Creighton Prep was postponed because of the weather.
Archbishop Bergan's Luke Jessen hits the center field wall trying to catch a hit from Millard West's Max Anderson resulting in an in-field home run during their state tournament game.
Crawford's Jillian Brennan (13) points up to the sky before the Class D 3,200-meter final at Omaha Burke High School during day one of the state track meet.
Gretna's Ashley Marsh connects with the ball alongside Marian's Maureen Tolley during the semifinal round of the Class A girls state soccer tournament at Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 11, 2019.
Elkhorn South players celebrate their championship while reading the name plate on the trophy after defeating Skutt during the NSAA Class B girls state soccer championship game Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
Jacob Himelick, left, a Millard north senior, chats with fellow senior Jace January as he signs January's year book. January likes to spend the time between classes greeting fellow students in the hallway.
Hannah Gruhlkey hugs her goat Griffin as he nibbles on her hair during a Country Bumpkin 4-H Club meeting at the Living Legend Farm.
Chipper Fyfe stands on a dike to see how far floodwaters have risen just west of Hamburg, Iowa.
Nebraska pitchers stay loose before their NCAA Regional game in Oklahoma City.
Tad Badje, 49, right, and wife Shelly Badje, 48, pepper Title Boxing Club's general manager, Chris Gerhardt's mid-section during a two-on-one body shot race as part of their work out at Title Boxing Club in Omaha, Nebraska.
Two-year-old Hannah Bonnot of Denver, Colorado, stands in awe before "Mountain Outlaw" taken at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, on display at Tom Mangelsen's "Life in the Wild" exhibition at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer walks through the tall grass at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska.
Canada geese fly over Flanagan Lake at sunset in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sunset is reflected in some open water at Flanagan Lake in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ian Murphy, canvases the nearly 90 snow people which are on display at the Leavenworth Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Neighbors such as Murphy say the snow people didn't exist yesterday and claim it happened over night or possibly early this morning.
Husker fans rock The Rock and corn hats in the first half as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln men's basketball team hosts Michigan State at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
An allosaurus appears to be eyeing a tasty, 19-month-old morsel named Austin Haseltine as he is lifted from the shoulders of his grandpa, Greg Fasano, by his mother, Amy Haseltine, with his father, Jim Haseltine looking on. The Dinosaur UpROAR exhibit at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft Street in Omaha, Nebraska, features 20 life-sized installations as well as discovery stations and educational activities set throughout the gardens.
The setting moon is framed by some dried flowers at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
A person goes for a run along the snow covered trails at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sun rises on a snow covered Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Pink and blue balloons float past the Sower statue on the Nebraska State Capitol after balloons were released for the 45th annual Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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Heavy machinery stacks up concrete chunks on the shore of the Elkhorn River at the Q Street bridge as part of an effort to stabilize the bank on the recently flooded river.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Deputy Darin Morrissey rides an ATV through floodwaters in Hawaiian Village.
Omaha Roncalli's Shane Orr celebrates their double overtime win over Aurora during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Auburn bench and crowd react to Auburn's Cameron Binder hitting what would be the game winning shot against North Bend Central during the championship game in the Class C1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraskaâ€™s Adrian Martinez runs out of the end zone after a play during spring football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Treyton Gubser, left, and his uncle Daniel Gubser paddle using shovels through the floodwaters after they rescued Daniel's kid's cat, Bob, in Hamburg, Iowa.
Highway 81 is covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over a flooded Waterloo, Nebraska, in March.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville, Nebraska.
A Canada goose flies over Matthew J. Placzek's "Monument to Labor" sculpture as floodwaters from the Missouri River begin to recede on the Omaha riverfront.
Floodwaters closed Ave I at North 26th Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River in April.
Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski holds up the net after his team defeated Omaha Roncalli in the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Amelia Fritz, right, holds on to her daughter-in-law Tesha Fritz in Glenwood, Iowa. They were evacuated from Pacific Junction, Iowa, after floodwaters hit the town last night. They were part of 15-relatives all staying in the same house or in a camper in the front driveway.
Robert Jones looks around his flood damaged house north of Highway 50, near Louisville,Nebraska. The floor, which is normally a white tile, is covered in mud.
Aurora's Nicholas Hutsell, left, fouls Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lincoln Pius X's Charlie Easley, left, and and Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers stretch for a loose ball during the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's Trent Reardon, left and Jason Sjuts celebrate their victory over Fremont Bergan during the championship game in the Class D1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Aurora's Kaleb Moural wipes the sweat from his face during the second half against Omaha Roncalli during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bob the cat looks on from a basket in a boat after being rescued from floodwaters in Hamburg, Iowa.
A vehicle is stuck in floodwaters near 1st Street and Pierce Street in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tim Rockford, left, and David Bauer, tour the Bellwood Lakes neighborhood which was destroyed by the flooding days prior along the Platte River in Bellwood, Nebraska.
Lincoln East's Charlotte Bovaird practices her shot and she and her teammates warm up in the hallways before the start of the game. Lincoln East played Millard South in a Class A first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Westside poses with the championship plaque with the winning score on the wall behind them after Omaha Westside defeated Millard North 54-53 at Omaha Westside in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Saenz of Bellevue works out at FIT IN THE CITY in Papillion, Nebraska.