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Beyond survival: Life's trials continued for pilot after 1989 crash (Al Haynes United Flight 232)
Rocky Mountain News ^ | 7 May 2005 | Ann Carnahan

Posted on 05/07/2005 5:12:16 PM PDT by A.A. Cunningham

Beyond survival
Life's trials continued for pilot after 1989 crash

By Ann Carnahan, Rocky Mountain News
May 7, 2005

Al Haynes is alone now, except for a daughter, a son and the United Airlines passengers who credit him with saving their lives.

The veteran pilot was at the helm July 19, 1989, when he and his crew crash-landed a crippled airliner in an Iowa cornfield. More than half of the passengers survived.

Rodolfo Gonzalez © News

Capt. Al Haynes, who piloted the United Airlines flight that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989, speaks at the United Airlines Flight Training Center in Denver. Haynes was hailed as a hero when 184 of the 296 passengers and crew survived a crash that many said should have killed everyone on board.

Flight 232 had taken off from Denver that afternoon with 296 passengers and crew on board when an explosion in its rear engine severed all of its hydraulic lines. The pilots couldn't control the plane, which wobbled perilously for 42 minutes. It was, experts said, a miracle anyone survived. Haynes was widely regarded as a hero because he found a way to bring the plane down nearly level with the ground. Then-President George H.W. Bush praised his performance. Charleton Heston played him in a TV movie.

Now 73, Haynes lives in Seattle and still gets together for occasional barbecues with the flight's crew. They have a special bond, he said.

He has developed close friendships with five or six of the passengers, and even though nearly 16 years have elapsed, he still gets a couple of dozen Christmas cards every year from survivors.

But the man who helped save 184 lives that day has suffered great personal loss.

In 1997, his oldest son, Tony, died in a motorcycle crash. Two years later, his wife of 40 years, Darlene, developed a rare infection after suffering a ruptured colon. She died the day before the 10th anniversary of the crash in Sioux City.

Haynes nearly suffered another loss three years ago when his daughter, Laurie Haynes Arguello, was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare disease that renders bone marrow unable to make new blood cells.

She needed a bone marrow transplant but didn't have the $256,000 necessary for the procedure, which was not fully covered by insurance. Follow-up care would run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

And then another miracle of sorts happened.

Hundreds of people rallied around Haynes to help him save one more life.

After he sent out a letter to family and friends asking for their help, they opened their wallets. Many donations came from crash survivors. Even family and friends of some of the 112 who died made contributions.

In all, $550,000 was raised. The National Foundation for Transplants oversees the money, which will cover Arguello's transplant-related expenses for the rest of her life.

On April 15 of last year, Arguello, who has a young son, underwent the transplant and came through with flying colors.

"She just didn't show any signs of problems at all," Haynes said. "But it can happen at any time. Now, at 40 years old or 60 years old or whatever, she could have a reaction of some sort. But right now, she's had absolutely none."

A couple of months ago, Arguello wrote a letter to the man who donated his bone marrow. All she knows about him is that he is 27 years old. She sent her letter to the Seattle cancer center that treated her, and it was forwarded to him.

Someday, Haynes said, it's possible his daughter will meet the man who saved her.

Recounting the crash

Haynes travels all over the country, talking about the crash.

"It's therapy for me," he said. "I feel it's something I need to do."

He's given 1,500 speeches to roughly 330,000 people about the role teamwork played in limiting the death toll.

Sometimes he speaks to corporate managers, emphasizing that they can run their businesses the same way the pilots ran their cockpit that day. Even the most junior employees, he says, have knowledge or training, or they wouldn't be working for you.

Haynes doesn't charge a fee, but he asks the groups to donate money to scholarships in memory of those who died on the flight. So far, Haynes' talks have raised about $1 million.

Earlier this year, Haynes spoke at the United Flight Training Center near the old Stapleton Airport in Denver.

He began his presentation with a video that included chilling radio transmissions between Flight 232 pilots and air traffic controllers. The video also paid tribute to hundreds of National Guardsmen, doctors, nurses and rescue workers in Sioux City.

Five things came together to keep the death toll down, Haynes said: luck, communication, preparation, execution and cooperation.

The Chicago-bound DC-10 took off from Stapleton that afternoon, cruising along uneventfully for nearly an hour and a half.

Then, at 37,000 feet, somewhere over northwestern Iowa, a loud pop rocked the tail of the turbo jet. The plane shuddered and lurched, then dropped several hundred feet.

In the cockpit, Haynes heard the explosion, but he wasn't particularly alarmed. The plane could still fly smoothly with just two engines.

'I can't control the plane'

Within a few minutes, however, Haynes, flight engineer Dudley Dvorak and first officer Bill Records, who was flying the plane when the engine exploded, noticed disturbing changes in the flight panel. A warning light flashed, signaling trouble in the jet's hydraulic systems. Gauges displayed a steady drop in fluid pressure.

Then, Haynes said, "Bill gave the attention-getting statement of the day: 'I can't control the airplane.' "

Haynes said he then grabbed the control wheel and said "the dumbest thing I've ever said: 'I got it Bill.' I realized right away I couldn't control it either."

By then, the plane was descending at 1,000 feet per minute. The crew could turn the plane to the right, but not the left.

At some point, passenger Denny Fitch, an off-duty United pilot and trainer, made his way to the cockpit and offered his help. Together the four men brainstormed for a way to land the plane successfully under a scenario considered so rare and hopeless that pilots didn't train for it. They thumbed through flight manuals but came up empty. Twice, they called United's maintenance center in San Francisco for ideas, but nothing.

So they made it up as they went along. They nosed the plane down by varying and gradually adjusting the engine power. They constantly adjusted the thrusters, adding power to the right engine and reducing it on the other side so they could nudge the jet left.

They talked with air traffic controllers, who suggested landing in Des Moines. Haynes asked for a closer airport and aimed for nearby Sioux City.

With the flight just 20 miles from the airport, Haynes told the controller:

"Whatever you do, keep us away from the city."

Controllers told Haynes he could land on an interstate east of the airport. Haynes responded that he was going to try for the airport. The controller said all runways were available and that emergency equipment was ready.

A few minutes before impact, Haynes calmly told the passengers to prepare for an emergency landing. "I don't want to kid you, but it's going to be rough," he told them.

The plane, operating without brakes, landed nearly level with the ground. At the last minute, the right wing dipped slightly and hit first. The impact left an 18-inch deep hole in the concrete as the plane broke apart and burst into flames.

Even so, the landing was considered remarkable under the circumstances. Simulator tests conducted after the crash showed that other DC-10 crews were unable to repeat the efforts of the Flight 232 crew.

Teamwork won the day

Haynes credited luck: The weather was good, emergency crews in Sioux City had trained for a wide-body jet crash, the Iowa National Guard was meeting in Sioux City that day and the crash occurred during shift change at the town's two hospitals, effectively doubling the staff.

He also acknowledged the teamwork of the men in the cockpit. In the past, flight crews simply did what the captain instructed, Haynes said, reluctant to offer opinions or suggestions.

"If the captain made a mistake, well that's too bad," Haynes said. "Well, now that's not the way it's done anymore. The whole crew contributes.

"The day of 'I will solve the problem' is over. Now, it's, 'We will solve the problem.' "

Haynes said he never has nightmares from the crash. He was knocked unconscious on impact and so "I didn't go through the crash."

He suffered a head injury that left him with a concussion and 92 stitches. He also suffered a cut ankle and bruised rib and sternum. His left ear was nearly cut off.

Haynes spent five days in the hospital, where he also underwent intense counseling.

"I was devastated," he said. "I was always wondering and fighting, 'Why didn't all 296 survive?'. . . Over time, I see we were extremely fortunate. My question is, 'How did 184 survive?' It should have been a non-survivable crash."

Haynes suffered survivor's guilt and, in a small way, still does.

"It's always there," he said. "You just have to deal with it, accept it and go on."

Seated in the front row at the training center, hanging on Haynes' every word, are two passengers from Flight 232, Jerry Schemmel and Garry Priest.

Enduring friendships

Schemmel, a Denver Nuggets radio broadcaster, and Priest, a custom home builder and country western singer, didn't know each other before the crash.

Today, they're friends.

Both men also consider Haynes a close friend, though he is old enough to be their father. They've shared many dinners, usually meeting when Haynes is speaking in Denver. They talk about the crash, how they felt and the aftermath on the ground.

Schemmel, who contributed to the transplant fund for the pilot's daughter, said he is even more impressed with the man Haynes has become since the crash than the man he was in the cockpit that day.

"He always has the time for anyone connected with the crash, and I think it could have gone the opposite way," Schemmel said. "He could have gone into a shell and said, 'No, leave me alone. I have to deal with myself.' But he's done the opposite. He's attacked it, almost, and faced it head-on, and I like that approach."

Also in the audience was Susan Callendar, a flight attendant on the stricken airliner. Like Priest and Schemmel, she gets together with Haynes about once every year when he's in Denver. When she got married two years after the crash, Haynes came to her wedding.

"Al is my hero," said Callendar, who still flies for United and thinks about the crash everyday.

A survival crash

In his talks, Haynes tells people to always be willing to listen to someone experiencing post- traumatic stress syndrome.

He returned to work three months after the accident and wasn't nervous at the controls, he said. In 1991, Haynes retired and has never flown a plane of any kind since. He doesn't miss it, he said, because he's too busy.

He umpires Little League games in Seattle and does play- by-play for high school football games.

In the past few years, Haynes has cut back his speaking engagements from 100 per year to about 60, which is still enough, he said, to provide him therapeutic benefits.

The Flight 232 crash became a "survival crash" in the media, Haynes said, but that offered little solace to the families of the 112 who died. Hayes said that he's never forgotten those who didn't make it and that his talks are dedicated to them.

"The only thing that concerns me about that whole crash is that we weren't able to save everybody," he said. "And that's the bottom line. That's all I ever think about."

He said he'll always remember how calm the passengers were, even when he explained the gravity of the situation.

"I will stand in awe of them," he said, "for the rest of my life."

Survival crashes

136 survived the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 in 1999 bound for Little Rock , Ark., from Dallas and carrying 145 passengers and crew.

189 survived the crash of United Airlines Flight 173 in 1978 bound for Portland, Ore., from Denver and carrying 199 passengers and crew.

The perilous journey of United Flight 232

Bound for Chicago from Denver, United Airlines Flight 232 wobbled for 42 minutes as the cockpit crew struggled to control the plane before crash landing in Iowa on July 19, 1989.

TOPICS: Miscellaneous; US: Colorado; US: Iowa
KEYWORDS: alhaynes; flight232; pilot; planecrash; ual

Jerry Schemmel a Denver Nuggets broadcaster and a passenger on the fllight, has stayed in contact with Haynes.

Capt. Al Haynes, who, piloted the ill-fated United Airlines Flight 232 in 1989.

Flight 232 is seen just seconds before impact at Sioux City Gateway Airport. About an hour and a half after takeoff, at 37,000 feet, a loud pop rocked the jet's tail. The plane shuddered, lurched then dropped for several hundred feet. The pilot, flight engineer, first officer and an off-duty pilot on board worked together to bring the plane down. That 184 of the 296 passengers and crew on board survived was hailed by many as a miracle.

The AP © 1989

Rescue vehicles gather near the wreckage of Flight 232. The Iowa National Guard was meeting in Sioux City the day the crash occurred and was on hand to help local emergency crews. The time of the crash also coincided with shift change at two area hospitals, effectively doubling staff. Both factors, Haynes said, helped curb the death toll.

1 posted on 05/07/2005 5:12:16 PM PDT by A.A. Cunningham
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To: A.A. Cunningham


2 posted on 05/07/2005 5:17:43 PM PDT by investigateworld ( God bless Poland for giving the world JP II & a Protestant bump for his Sainthood!)
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To: A.A. Cunningham
He and his crew were hero's for their skill. He and his cockpit crew are to be forever honored. Brave and good men, all.
I noticed this remark: "At some point, passenger Denny Fitch, an off-duty United pilot and trainer, made his way to the cockpit and offered his help."

Now, given todays environment, would the Air Marshals let Denny into the cockpit. . .I mean. . there was a pop and the jet was weaving and obviously in trouble, and then Denny stands up and heads for the cockpit. . .violating regulations and we have zero-tolerance for such violations. . .I can easily imagine the Air Marshal's tacking him as he makes his way forward. Apology. . .Just my cynical side thinking aloud. . .
3 posted on 05/07/2005 5:22:38 PM PDT by Gunrunner2
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To: A.A. Cunningham

Thanks for demonstrating your superior airmanship, Al, you're the best, most heroic, and most prolific spokesperson United ever had.

By the way, we're terminating your pension.

"Bankrupt United Airlines reached an agreement with US pension insurers on Friday to terminate four employee retirement plans which are underfunded by nearly USD$10 billion.

Under the deal, which requires court approval, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will assume plans covering 120,000 current and former employees and retired workers at United. These include pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, ground workers and other employees. If approved by the bankruptcy court, the termination would be the largest in PBGC history."

4 posted on 05/07/2005 6:05:04 PM PDT by zipper ("The fear of God makes heroes, the fear of man makes cowards."-- Sgt Alvin C. York)
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To: zipper

Compare him with Muslim pilots. On whose side is God?

5 posted on 05/07/2005 6:18:50 PM PDT by ReadyNow
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To: A.A. Cunningham
Great article, thanks for posting.

Found that video of it.

6 posted on 05/07/2005 6:19:15 PM PDT by Textide
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To: ReadyNow
Yeah, really-- your remark reminds me of that Egypt Air pilot that decided to commit suicide by driving his 767 into the ocean, back in Nov '99:

"Tawakilt ala allah" means, literally, "I put my trust in God." The fact that Gamil al-Batouty said these words shortly after he took over the controls of EgyptAir Flight 990 is meaningless, most Islamic experts argued last week. Many Muslims utter the oath routinely, before driving the car pool or starting to cook dinner. But, NEWSWEEK has learned, Batouty did not say "Tawakilt ala Allah" just once. According to knowledgeable sources, he repeated the oath as many as 14 times, urgently and prayerfully as, investigators believe, he sent the Boeing 767 into a fatal nose-dive.

and this:

Batouty, 59, was alone at the controls when the Boeing 767's autopilot was switched off and, a few seconds later, the jet was pushed into a steep dive. The captain of the jet apparently returned to the cockpit a short time later. At about that time, somebody attempted to pull the jet out of its dive, but both engines were then shut down, and the jet fell out of the sky. All 217 people aboard the flight on Oct. 31 from New York to Cairo died.

7 posted on 05/07/2005 6:28:36 PM PDT by zipper ("The fear of God makes heroes, the fear of man makes cowards."-- Sgt Alvin C. York)
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To: A.A. Cunningham

I remember watching this crash over and over in my squadron - the man and his crew are heros - and there is such a thing as miracles.

8 posted on 05/07/2005 7:28:29 PM PDT by Tennessee_Bob (The Crew Chief's Toolbox: A roll around cabinet full of specialists.)
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To: A.A. Cunningham; Calpernia; Velveeta; lacylu; TexKat; Pepper777; Tuba Guy; SevenofNine; ...

Ping to a " I am glad I read this article"!

9 posted on 05/08/2005 8:56:01 AM PDT by nw_arizona_granny (Airspeed, altitude, or brains. Two are required to successfully complete a flight.)
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To: Aeronaut; RadioAstronomer; nw_arizona_granny

WOW! A GREAT read!!!!!!

10 posted on 05/08/2005 8:11:54 PM PDT by Calpernia (
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To: Textide

OMG, HOW did they survive this?

11 posted on 05/08/2005 8:22:52 PM PDT by Calpernia (
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To: A.A. Cunningham
I was in junior high in 89, and remember this well. My parents farm is 70 miles to the south of Sioux City. We were outside most of the day, and the first thing we noticed was a lot of the Life Light ambulance helicopters racing over head.

Al and his flight crew are hero's. I read somewhere that they have tried to recreate the flight to see if anyone else could land the plane was well as they did. In all the simulations, the plane crashed nose first.
12 posted on 05/25/2005 6:22:11 AM PDT by redgolum ("God is dead" -- Nietzsche. "Nietzsche is dead" -- God.)
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