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‘A sad and profound experience’: ‘Come From Away’ has special meaning for R.I. woman

On a flight from Rome when the nation was attacked on 9/11, Wendy Taylor of Tiverton was among thousands of passengers diverted to airports in Canada, as depicted in the Broadway musical, “Come From Away,” which opens its Providence run Tuesday

The North American tour of "Come From Away" opens its Providence run on Tuesday.Matthew Murphy

It’s been more than 20 years since the nation came under attack on Sept. 11, 2001, but for Tiverton resident Wendy Taylor, the memories remain as clear as the skies that surrounded her on that fateful morning so long ago.

She was on a Delta flight from Rome, Italy, where she had been vacationing, en route to Providence, but planned to stop in New York City to visit with a friend who worked on Wall Street. She never made it to JFK airport.

Wendy TaylorWendy Taylor

Instead, her flight, like so many others heading to North American destinations, was diverted, since the Federal Aviation Administration shut down US airspace after planes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another plane that government officials believed was heading for the White House or the US Capitol subsequently crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Taylor’s plane, a 300-passenger wide-body jet, was diverted to St. John’s International Airport in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The 54-year-old former medical malpractice attorney — who now owns and operates West Place Animal Sanctuary in Tiverton — said she was unaware of the magnitude of what was taking place until the captain came over the intercom and, in what she said was a “cautious” tone with a “voice that was shaking,” told passengers that “the United States has been attacked.”


“There was a millisecond of dead silence, then immediate sobs and gasps,” Taylor recalled. “He gave brief details about what had happened … and said it was thought to be the work of suicide bombers and terrorists.”

After hours of sitting on the tarmac, she and her fellow passengers were taken in shuttle buses to nearby schools, hotels, and churches. What happened in the days that followed is also something Taylor said she never will forget.


“There were hundreds of tireless, merciful volunteers who cooked for us, cleaned up after us, gave us clothes … anything we needed,” she said. “I think the entire town took the week off from their jobs.”

The kindness displayed by the residents of St. John’s was replicated throughout cities and towns in Newfoundland and Labrador — where some 17,000 passengers and crew members in total had landed — in the aftermath of 9/11.

The most famous of those communities is, thanks to a Broadway musical, the town of Gander, about 130 miles from St. John’s, where 38 planes landed with 6,579 passengers and crew.

The kindness shown by the people of Gander, and the bonds formed between the locals and the passengers and crew, were immortalized in the 2017 award-winning production “Come from Away,” which closed on Broadway last fall after a successful five-year run.

The North American tour of the musical is landing in Providence on Tuesday for a run of shows Feb. 21-26 at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

And while she has seen the musical several times before, Taylor said she is looking forward to seeing it again on opening night in Providence.

“Honestly, it’s like seeing an old friend. It never gets old,” she said. “They just got it so right.”

Taylor said that even though the musical is set in a town roughly 130 miles away from St. John’s — where she made friends with whom she still keeps in touch today — the story is “exactly the same.”


“It was very emotional. I knew it would invoke memories, but I did not expect it to tell my story and how much it would [resonate] with me,” she said. “It was such a sad and profound experience, and to see it turned into this is magic. I think everyone will take something away from it.”

For tickets, starting at $38, and additional information about “Come from Away,” visit ppacri.org

Juliet Pennington can be reached at writeonjuliet@comcast.net.