They were waiting in line for an army blanket at the Society of United Fishermen’s Lodge in Gambo when they spoke to each other for the first time.
Just hours before, the two weary and displaced strangers had stepped off their Continental Airlines flight that was en route from England to New York but was forced to land in Gander as a result of the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The two were among 6,600 passengers and crew from 38 planes that were diverted to the small central Newfoundland town and surrounding communities.
Today, Nick and Diane Marson are happily married, having found love — as well as life-long friendships — as a result of such a devastating event.
“We were just so lucky,” Diane told The Telegram earlier this week during a telephone interview from the couple’s home in Houston, Texas.
“We really thought at the time that we were just plucked out of this horrible situation in the rest of the world, where there was so much evil, tragedy and sadness going on, and just set down in Newfoundland, where there were so many angels who took care of us.”
Nick, who joined in the conversation from another phone receiver in another room of their home, added that while they often suffer from survivor’s guilt, it warms their heart to think about the help they got from the people of this province.
“If it wasn’t for their kindness and generosity, we would never have met,” he said, “and I would not be where I am right now.
“So, we are indebted to the people of Newfoundland,” added Nick, who moved from England to Houston to be with his love. “If you had to choose a place where you’d be stranded, you couldn’t pick a better place than Newfoundland.”
The couple and their story are being highlighted in an intimate feature documentary, “You Are Here: A Come From Away Story,” premiering on HBO Canada on Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Written and directed by Moze Mossanen, the 84-minute film tells the story of how residents of a community of just over 9,000 opened their arms and homes to those who “came from away” from around the world.
The heartwarming story was brought to life as the original Canadian musical, “Come From Away,” in 2013 and debuted as a hugely popular Broadway musical, “Come From Away” in New York City the same year. It’s currently onstage in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
The Marsons — who married Sept. 7, 2002, and returned to Gambo for their honeymoon — are portrayed in the musical and are honoured to be a part of the HBO documentary. They’re looking forward to making their seventh trip back to Gander this weekend to take in the documentary’s first showing on Saturday.
“It’s their story,” Diane said. “We just happened to be in it.”
Kevin Tuerff — who was en route from Paris to New York on 9-11 when his flight landed in Gander — will also be featured in the documentary.
“There wasn’t a single stove that wasn’t on cooking for us,” said Tuerff, who lived in Houston at the time, but now lives in New York.
“Every man, woman and child was helping in some way, whether it was making toast or giving rides to the Wal-Mart.
“I just came back and said, would we do the same? A small town in Texas where I lived at the time, I wasn’t sure, and even today I’m not sure.
“My new mantra is, why do we have to wait until a natural disaster or terrorist attack to be kind a compassionate.”
Tuerff first returned to Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and has visited several times since then. He plans to be in Gander Saturday for the documentary’s showing and in Toronto for the HBO premiere Tuesday.
“People love this story,” said Tuerff, who is also portrayed in the musical and wrote a book about his experience, “Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9-11.”
He has also been recognized for his Pay it Forward campaign, in which he has encouraged tens of thousands to commit an act of kindness as a way to honour the people of Gander who came together to help strangers.
“I’m taking all this attention and trying to use it to promote more compassion in the world because that’s what I experienced in 2001,” Tuerff said. “In 2018, the world seems to have gone off the rails when it comes to how we treat strangers, immigrants and refugees.
“I felt like a refugee myself during that week after 9-11. I was forced from home, I had no food or shelter, but they gave it to me in Gander.”