Couple Who Met Because of 9/11 Are Marking 19 Years of Marriage: Inside Their Unlikely Love Story

After facing survivor's guilt, Nick and Diane Marson had a realization: "In the darkest of circumstances, good things can still happen"

"Make the most of today, because who knows what tomorrow's going to bring," says Nick Marson.

It's a lesson he learned firsthand on Sept. 11, 2001. The British native, now 72, was flying from London to Houston aboard Continental Airlines flight C03 for a work trip when terrorists turned other passenger jets into weapons on U.S. soil.

With the U.S. airspace shut down as the nation went into survival mode, Nick's flight was one of 38 diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, where locals in the small town rushed to shelter and feed the 6,700 passengers who were stranded for days in the aftermath of 9/11. Little did Nick know that his future wife Diane was among those travelers.

"Neither one of us got on that plane on that day looking for a romantic engagement," Nick tells PEOPLE of Diane, who was on the same flight, returning home from a family vacation in the U.K. "That's for sure."

They were complete strangers until Nick went looking for a spot to sleep at the Society of United Fishermen Lodge 47 in Gambo that night.

"Is it alright if I take this bed?" Nick recalled asking Diane, pointing to the cot next to her. Both single empty-nesters with grown children from previous relationships, they bonded and decided to take walks around town together — a welcomed distraction from the heartbreaking images being replayed on television.

Nick and Diane Marson
Nick and Diane Marson. Courtesy Nick and Diane Marson

Sparks were evident in those uncertain days, so much so that the master of ceremonies at a screeching event, where visitors kiss fish to become honorary Newfoundlanders, assumed they were a married couple. As Nick remembers, Diane replied, "Why not?" Though Diane has insisted she "said it in jest," they wound up married less than a year later — and on Tuesday, nearly 20 years after 9/11, the Marsons celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary.

It's an unlikely love story that has since been immortalized in the documentary You Are Here and the hit Broadway musical Come from Away, now available on Apple+. But in the immediate years after 9/11, both felt what they describe as "survivor's guilt."

"We'd found something wonderful, and it did not seem appropriate that that had happened when more than 3,000 families had been devastated," Nick says. "It was something we kept to ourselves. You almost think, 'Pretend it didn't happen.' "

Nick and Diane Marson
The Marsons have made several trips back to the natural beauty of Newfoundland, where they spent their honeymoon in September 2002. “It’s a very different place,” Diane says of the friendly locals. Adds Nick: “Like back in the 1950s.”. Courtesy Nick and Diane Marson

"It wasn't something I was comfortable talking about or celebrating," Diane, now 80, adds.

As time passed, they began to embrace the inspiring truth at the core of their relationship: "In the darkest of circumstances, good things can still happen," Diane told PEOPLE at the couple's Houston home during a photo shoot for the magazine in 2019. "The world is in turmoil, but don't shut yourself away."

Two years after their first PEOPLE interview, as the world grapples with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, that message rings even truer for the Marsons.

"I would say that she's a very wise woman for saying those words," Nick says now over Zoom while reflecting on the pandemic.

RELATED VIDEO: 4 Teens Who Were Not Yet Born When Their Dads Died on 9/11 Reveal Their Struggles and Triumphs

"I think we all get ahead of ourselves, especially with social media, with phones, with tablets, or whatever," adds Diane. "We're not in the moment that much anymore. We've certainly not had the social contacts in person that we used to have. It's not been easy for anyone."

The takeaway, Diane says, is that "we all need to live in the present" with an open heart.

"You get to a certain age and you realize that any chances for a relationship go out the window, but you're satisfied," she says of her years as a divorcée before meeting Nick. "You have your family, you have your grandchildren, and you think, 'Well, this is it.' You don't consider that there's going to be a romantic time."

Nick and Diane Marson
Nick and Diane Marson. Courtesy Nick and Diane Marson

"But when an opportunity comes along," Diane continues, "and there are some sparks there—"

"Give him a kiss," says Nick, jokingly interjecting — a regular occurrence for a couple who love to finish each other's sentences.

This time the joke is about their first smooch in Newfoundland. Five days after the attacks, when the U.S. airspace reopened, Nick and Diane boarded a school bus transporting stranded travelers back to the airport. In their final seconds together, Diane knew she had to make her move.

Nick and Diane Marson
Diane and Nick Marson. Courtesy Nick and Diane Marson

"I thought, 'If you don't do it now, the opportunity [will pass],' " she recalls.

"That was your ace," says Nick. "You played your ace."

"Yes, I played my ace card because, if I didn't do it then, we were going to shake hands at the airport, you go your way, I go my way — 5,000 miles apart," Diane says.

That kiss "lit a fire under me," Nick said in 2019. "It's like, good lord — I thought those days were over."

Nick and Diane Marson
Nick and Diane Marson. Courtesy Nick and Diane Marson

Thanks to his job, Nick found an excuse to return to Houston and stay with Diane, and that November, he proposed over the phone. A few months and several long-distance phone cards later, he relocated from the U.K. to Texas to begin a new life with Diane. Surrounded by friends and family, they said "I do" in their backyard on Sept. 7, 2002 — almost a year to the day they met.

Though it's been two decades, they are consistently reminded of their beginnings when visiting with friends they made in Newfoundland (sometimes in person but most often during weekly "Gander Happy Hour" Zoom calls) and seeing the Come From Away musical. So far, they've sat in the audience of 118 performances as actors reenact the days when fate brought them together.

"Every time we see it," says Nick, "it's like we're renewing our vows."

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