On September 11, 2001, Whitehorse was gripped by panic.
Authorities reported a hijacked Korean airliner was headed for the city.
Schools and government buildings were evacuated and traffic clogged the streets as people fled the downtown core.
“Very little attention has been paid to what happened here,” said Max Fraser whose documentary Never Happen Here – the Whitehorse 9/11 Story, tells the tale.
“What we experienced, and what we felt was profound and dramatic,” he said.
“We suffered a major crisis. People here basically went through a near-death experience, and we weren’t getting enough attention paid to that.”
In retrospect it seems almost absurd Whitehorse would be the target of a terrorist attack, but at the time it seemed very real, said Fraser.
“We wake up that morning and hear about all that was happening in New York and Washington and we say, ‘Oh my God, thank God we live in the Yukon – nothing like that ever happens here,’” he said. “Four hours later, the police are on the radio saying they’re evacuating schools, there’s a hijacked airliner on the way and it’s accompanied by fighter jets. What do you do?”
What Fraser and many other parents did that morning was rush down to their children’s school.
“You don’t know what to believe, but you go get your kids, and nothing’s going to stand in your way.”
In 2007, Fraser set out to make a point-of-view documentary about the experience.
He began by interviewing parents, their children and school staff.
But as he researched the story, and uncovered more details, the scope of the film became much larger.
Here is what Fraser found out:
On the morning of September 11 a text message between Korean Air ground control and flight 085 on its way to New York City was discovered.
It read, “HJK,” or hijacking.
Air traffic controllers in Alaska contacted the 747, but the flight crew reported that all was well.
A short time later, the airliner, running low on fuel, was rerouted from Anchorage, Alaska to Whitehorse.
Fighter jets were dispatched with orders to shoot down the plane if it deviated from its new flight path.
And then, strangest of all, before it entered Canadian airspace the air-traffic controllers in Alaska ordered the plane to change its transponder code to 7500, the code that only hijacked planes would broadcast.
It was the first and only time an airliner was made to do such a thing.
Those orders came directly from Washington, and were so out of the ordinary that the air traffic controllers waited more than 20 minutes before they relayed them to the plane.
In the documentary you can hear the confusion in the pilot’s voice as
he asks the controller to repeat the request.
The film ends up posing far more questions than it answers.
“I’ve been trying to figure this out for three years,” said Fraser. “My hope is, with the documentary coming out and questions being asked, that it will force some answers.”
But those answers don’t seem to be forthcoming.
“It’s just so very strange and frustrating,” he said. “There’s no reason for authorities to hide anything, or to not give us an explanation.
“What possible reason could there be?”
The documentary premiered at the Dawson City Film Festival on the weekend and there were two screenings in Whitehorse last night.
It has been well received so far, said Fraser, who will soon be heading to the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto where he hopes to line up a deal with a broadcaster in time for the anniversary of 9/11.
“It’s a story that needs to be told,” he said.
Contact Josh Kerr at