At 9:26 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to shut down all American airspace after attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a third attack that was thwarted when passengers fought the terrorists and the plane went down in Pennsylvania.

Closing the airspace forced 4,000 flights to land at the nearest airport. Flights from Europe to the U.S. were diverted to Canada.

Thirty-eight of those international flights carrying more than 6,500 people landed in Gander, Newfoundland, a town with 10,000 residents.

After five hours on the ground, passengers were allowed to get off the planes. They were driven to churches, schools, community centers and other buildings in Gander and the surrounding area. All of them were in Canada for at least two days. Planes were grounded until Sept. 13. Some didn’t leave until Sept. 16.

What happened to the stranded people and their hosts over those days makes up the plot of “Come From Away,” the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that opens in Omaha on Wednesday. The city is the latest stop on a national tour that started last October.

With only 12 actors, the show by writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff tells more than 16,000 stories that happened over five days. Some of the actors met their real-life counterparts and became friends, much like many of the passengers have enduring relationships with the people of Gander.

“Come From Away” is about 90 minutes long with no intermission. It runs through March 31 at the Orpheum Theater.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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