9/11 Piliot sees his life story on stage in “Come From Away” | Arts and theater

Beverly Bass vividly remembers the first time she heard “Me and the Sky.”

It was June 13, 2015. She was at the Playhouse in La Jolla, California. About halfway through the first performance of the new musical “Come From Away,” the song by a character named Beverly, who was one of the pilots who flew airliners in Gander, Earth -Neuve, on September 11, 2001, appeared.

“I was out of breath, I needed oxygen, it was so overwhelming,” Bass said. “I was looking at my husband. And I remember I said to him, “Oh my god, this is the story of my life in 4 minutes and 19 seconds, the story of my life in aviation. I could not believe it. It was fabulous.”

She’s heard the song many times since – so many renditions from professionals and school children. And she is still affected in the same way.

“It just became something that a lot of people clung to and it’s not an easy song to sing,” she said. “So the actress told me I would never try this stuff but they say it’s not easy.”

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“Me and the Sky” tells, with a bit of artistic license, the story of a girl who fell in love with aviation at age 4, decided she wanted to fly the biggest planes at age 8, is went to flight school while in college and earned her license in 1973 – when Frontier Airlines hired the first female commercial airline pilot

“So there was hope,” Bass said, of achieving his childhood dream. But there were dues to pay and sexism to overcome.

“My first flying job was flying for an undertaker,” Bass said during a Zoom chat last week. “I flew bodies in a plane that was so small it couldn’t fit a coffin. The body was just on a stretcher next to my right leg. And I flew for him for about two years.

Hired as American Airlines’ third female pilot in 1976, she became a captain a decade later and on December 30, 1986, she was captain of the first all-female airliner crew, attracting world media attention. entire.

On September 11, 2001, Bass was an experienced pilot and trainer, who was in the cockpit of a Boeing 777, the largest airliner in the US fleet, on a routine flight from Paris to her port of departure. tied to Dallas.

In the middle of the Atlantic, the crew learned that a plane had struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Then came the report of the second airliner, another American plane, hitting the second tower.

“They told us that American 49 was landing your plane immediately in Gander, Newfoundland,” she said. “So we’re off to Gander. This was one of the hardest steps I’ve ever had to do because I decided not to make up a story about why we were going to Gander.

“We were the 36th of 38 widebodies to land in three hours. We parked and the Canadian officials got on the plane and they said, “You won’t get off until tomorrow. We landed around 10:15 am on the morning of 9/11. We were therefore on the plane for a total of 28 hours before being disembarked”.

The disembarkation began the crew and passengers’ five-day stay in Gander, part of the 7,000 people stranded in the town of 9,400. City residents greeted them with food – some 285,000 meals were served – while opening their homes and treating strangers like long-lost friends.

That relationship is at the heart of the musical, which comes to the Lied Center for Performing Arts for the first of seven performances on Wednesday.

The musical’s writers interviewed many stranded people, including Bass, who was asked questions at a 10th anniversary reunion in Gander in 2011. “Come From Away” takes it all, including its title, of real people and events.

“We’re called ‘outsiders,'” Bass said. “Do you know why that is?” In Newfoundland, if you weren’t born there, you’ve come a long way. We were therefore the “comers from afar”.

Bass retired from America at age 56 to protect his pension when the airline was on the verge of bankruptcy. She’s now 70 and flies a private jet — when she’s not going to see “Come From Away.”

She has seen the musical 172 times and will soon see a few more performances. His review:

“They rarely make a mistake, but I know every word, every line,” she said. “However, I can’t sing and I can’t dance. So they will never ask me to fill in.

“…At the end of the show, every performance, people stand up. .. This makes me very proud. And anyone who was hesitant to see the show because of its 9/11 connection, they quickly learn that they needn’t have cared. At all.”

Asked about “Me and the Sky” becoming her final legacy, Bass acknowledged that she will be remembered because of the song, but it won’t be her legacy.

“What’s really funny is that my daughter is a pilot for American now,” she said. “So what I’m saying is the legacy will live on through my daughter.”

Contact the writer at 402-473-7244 or [email protected] On Twitter @KentWolgamott

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