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Recollections of a Red Cross Mental Health Volunteer

 

Marion Harcourt, Red Cross Mental Health Volunteer

After the attacks on Sept 11, 2001, the FAA ordered all planes in the air to land immediately. This included a flight of Mexican businessmen and their wives who had attended a conference in Toronto and were on their way home to Mexico City. Their plane landed in Indianapolis, and they were stranded.

The airport notified the Red Cross whose charge is to respond immediately to care for stranded people whether from a tornado, an apartment fire, a hurricane, or anything they so designate. In this case it was an airport “disaster” but on a personal scale.

The Red Cross arranged for the use of Jameson Camp near Bridgeport, not far from the airport, to host the visitors. The facility provided beds, lavatories, and dining facilities for the two hundred or so guests.

The Red Cross then put out a call for their trained volunteers to come to the site to care for the stranded travelers. The police made the camp a secure area. Allowing the public to enter was not safe as there was no way to screen visitors. This was not Gander Newfoundland a celebrated port of entry in Canada that was lauded for their unique outpouring of hospitality.

The stranded passengers had Mexican passports and no Visas for legal entry into the U.S. They could not leave the camp. The Red Cross arranged for local restaurants to donate food, “thank you McDonalds among others”. With this help, the Red Cross volunteers set up a dining area.

Wishard Hospital established a temporary emergency clinic to respond to any acute medical needs. The Red Cross has authority for their health care workers to validate and fill prescriptions in an emergency. The Red Cross mental health team responded to issues especially helping to deal with the stress brought on by the events. That was my job. Other workers retrieved luggage from the plane and drove travelers to a laundry.

After the second day, life got BORING! Our group brought playing cards, board games, and stationery to give our guests something to occupy their time. We also brought in several televisions, some equipped for Spanish speakers, so they could keep abreast of the news in the days following 9/11. We arranged for phone stations, necessary because cell phones were not widely available. These were equipped to allow calls to Mexico.

Finally, we receive permission from Immigration allowing people to leave the property for brief periods. I was selected to be the docent from Indiana Landmarks to conduct tour of the city including Monument Circle, The Capital, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Eagle Creek, and the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Most of the men spoke English but some of the wives didn’t. There were plenty of Spanish speaking Red Cross volunteers and that helped.

It was nearly a week before air traffic resumed fully. Officials country wide had an enormous job untangling the mess caused by the necessary departures and arrivals. Finally, the Mexican guests were on their way home.

Indianapolis was not equipped to welcome our guests in the celebrated way it happened with our Canadian neighbors, but our guests were well taken care of and seemed to enjoy their brief unplanned stay in central Indiana.

Contributed by: Marion Harcourt

 

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3 thoughts on “On 9/11 Mexico City Flight Diverted to Indianapolis

  1. That was an interesting story I had not heard before. The personal anecdote we have of the 9/11 attack happened to my brother and his wife who were visiting New York as tourists from Mexico. They witnessed the attack and the ensuing chaos. They were unable to fly back to Mexico as planned and opted to travel by train to Chicago. We went to greet them at the train station and drive them to Indy where they stayed a couple of days with us and then flew back to their home in Mexico City. They will never forget that experience in New York, even if they were not injured or directly affected by the destruction.

  2. I agree hats off to volunteers like Marion! That was a unique historical event. Also familiarized me with aspects of the Red Cross of which I was never aware.

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