A Canadian flight attendant opened her home to two lost newcomers three decades ago. Now, the family is hoping Canadians will open their hearts to help find her.
As four-year-old Michael Pan and his mother Hui Ju started their new life in Canada, they spoke no English, had no money, and had landed in the wrong city.
The newcomers were on their way to reunite with Pan's father, Guo Qiang, who had settled in Montreal in 1982. His hard work as a car mechanic, driver, and dishwasher had finally paid off: using the savings from his multiple jobs, he brought his family over from China in 1984.
When their flight made a stopover, the mother and son followed other passengers who were disembarking, unaware that they were getting off in Toronto. It was a stressful experience for Pan's mother, who had a hard time communicating with airline staff. They would have been stranded if a flight attendant hadn't come to their rescue.
"She was the one who said, 'Yep, no problem! I'll take them in and I'll make sure they're here tomorrow morning,'" Pan recalled.
The flight attendant took the travellers home for the night. She fed them dinner, drove them back to the airport in the morning, and helped them book a flight to Montreal.
"Had we not had this guardian angel help us through that night, we'd be sleeping at the airport," Pan said. "We were complete strangers, yet a Canadian took us in and cared for us until we were on the plane safe again the next day. That's really set the tone for our family and what being Canadian really is."
Her kindness has become a beloved story, retold over family dinners and at Christmas. This year, the family is hoping social media and holiday magic will help them get closure and reunite them with the good samaritan.
Searching for 'guardian angel'
The family doesn't have the flight number and they don't remember the exact date of departure, suspecting it was early November 1984.
Pan's sister, Catherine Pan, has taken the lead in the search. In a Facebook post, she urged for help in finding the flight attendant so they could "thank her from the bottom of our immigrant hearts."
Responses have been overwhelmingly positive, with the post racking up offers of support from many current and former flight attendants.
"You've now got hundreds of current Air Canada flight attendants looking into this for you," one commenter wrote.
A Christmas miracle might be en route: after hearing the Pans' story, Air Canada got in touch with the family. The company told the siblings they would be scouring their internal databases for their guardian angel.
She gave our family the best possible introduction to Canada.Catherine Pan
Born in Montreal a year after the heart-warming deed, Catherine Pan grew up hearing the story. Its message of helping others had inspired her to pursue urban planning, working with immigrant communities in Toronto.
"When [my family] came to Canada, we didn't have much," she said. Her mother worked as a seamstress, doing factory jobs to keep the family afloat. Her father spent long hours in the food industry, leading him to co-own his own restaurant. For herself and her family, their success as immigrants exists because of hard work and Canadian values.
"I don't think that people can do it on their own. It takes the kindness of strangers, people giving you a chance and showing you the way," Pan said. "I think that's typical of the Canadian experience: reaching out to someone who is in need and jumping on that opportunity to help them. She gave our family the best possible introduction to Canada."
As a father, Pan has passed on the story of the flight attendant to his two kids, especially around the holidays.
"The unconditional generosity of this particular individual is the theme of most of our conversations around this time. I say to them, 'Imagine we landed in a strange country. How would that feel? We don't speak the language. How would you feel?' They're very grateful."
Although she's stayed off social media, Pan said his mother is "sentimental" about it, and hopes she can thank the flight attendant.
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If Pan could speak to her now, he hopes she knows how she's changed the lives of his entire family.
"By you opening your heart and your home, you've opened up opportunities for my parents, for myself, and for my children. It was a little thing, 12 hours of her life, but it's affected us for over 35 years," he said.
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