9/11: Cleared for Chaos

A new documentary profiles the ingenuity and composure of air traffic controllers in Gander, Newfoundland in the wake of the tragedy of September 11th, 2001


The events of September 11th, 2001 have been well documented. We know the story, the sadness that unified nations and the aftermath that saw Newfoundland and Labrador spotlighted on a world’s stage.

Yes, the story has been told and told well. Come From Away is a global brand, one that directly underscores the kindness of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians at the heights of one of the most tumultuous events in modern history. 

Unsung heroes

Now one Canadian documentary highlights some of the unsung heroes that represented a silver lining in an otherwise tragic day. 9/11: Cleared For Chaos is an all new made in Canada documentary special, released through Discovery and streaming giant Crave. 

The riveting and intense picture combines candid interviews and reenactments to illustrate the extraordinary ingenuity of air traffic controllers in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, who were responsible for successfully landing over 200 planes in less than four hours following the terrorist attack in New York City. 

Dwayne Puddister, a seasoned High Level Controller for Nav Canada’s Gander Area Control Centre, remembers the day vividly. 

“There was some emotional points,” Puddister shared with The Herald of revisiting the infamous day. “You sort of have it in the back of your mind that this day is long gone. But the amount of pressure and the intensity and the concentration, all those things combined and time constraints as well. It brought back some emotional feelings no doubt.”

Puddister was among dozens interviewed for Cleared For Chaos, which combined live news footage of the period and candid one-on-ones with air traffic control staff, pilots, flight attendants and passengers. 


The quick thinking and razor sharp skills of Puddister and his colleagues resulted in over 200 planes landing without incident. For Puddister and co., who were pushed to the limits during an unprecedented scenario, September 11th, 2001 represents an all-hands-on-deck level of team effort. 

“The teamwork that went on, the camaraderie with my fellow controllers and everyone working at NAV Canada, everyone in that building stepped up to the plate and everyone worked together,” Puddister recalls. 

“We had to double our staff in order to make this thing go down properly. And we had to improvise and change our plans as we went. We didn’t make a plan and stick to it. You make a plan and you might have to change it three times before you get the result you need.”

Though the sting of the unthinkable cruelty and hate associated with the attacks on 9/11 still resonate 18 years later, the actions of men and women like Puddister, finding control amidst the chaos, serve as a bright spot within a dark period.

“It was a team effort from all aspects right from the pilots to the controllers to every Nav Canada employee that was involved,” Puddister says, reflectively.

“Just to be able to realize we have an almost impossible task and to make it happen safely, everyone then at the end of the day can look back and say OK, we did this. It’s not something that we normally do but we certainly accomplished the task together.”

The riveting documentary 9/11 Cleared For Chaos is available to view now on Crave and online at discovery.ca

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