Flight 232: A look back 20 years later - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Flight 232: A look back 20 years later

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) - July 19th marks the 20th anniversary of the crash of United Flight 232, at Sioux City's Sioux Gateway Airport.

A tragedy that transformed a community, and countless lives.  Over the next week we'll feature a special series of reports looking back at what happened.

We'll hear from survivors, first responders, and even the man who helped get the plane to Sioux City.  Plus, we'll show you how the media covered the crash.

We'll take a look at the memorial that honors and remembers those involved that day.

We begin with Flight 232 still in the air, on its way from Denver to Chicago.

There are 296 people on board when the trouble starts in the skies over Siouxland.

Captain Al Haynes issues a mayday more than 30,000 feet over northwest Iowa. The fan disk in the number two engine-- on the DC-10's tail-- disintegrates shearing off a section of the tail, and shredding the plane's three main hydraulic lines.

"Anything we had to control the movement of that airplane, we lost," says Haynes.

In 1989, the chances of losing all hydraulics were one in a billion. In a DC-10, the lines are separated, on purpose. But, in the tail, the lines share the same ten-inch wide space.

Voice Recorder:

"Very little control. No hydraulics, no fluids," Haynes says.

Adding, "I have serious doubts about making the airport. We may have to put it down wherever it happens to be."

The passengers are taught how to brace for impact, and told to stay in their seats. One, though, gets up to calm a child who is asking his mother if he's going to die.

"His mom thanked me. I have a feeling she knew what I was trying to do," passenger Jerry Schemmel explains.

On the ground, rescue and fire crews are alerted.

"This was considered an "Alert 3", which is the most serious," which indicates that either the aircraft is down, or is going to crash," says Woodbury County's Emergency Services Director Gary Brown.

"We all went to our stand-by positions, and just listened to the radio, and listened to the tower," says the 185th Fighter Wing's former Fire Chief, Jim Hathaway.

The cockpit chatter was encouraging.

Voice Recorder:

"We're getting some control up here," Haynes stated.

"We didn't actually control it, But, we just kinda guided it around," he said. 

 "We have a little bit of control back. We'll head for Sioux City."

"They said there was 292 people on board, and I said, 'Wow!' That's bigger than what normally comes in and out of here. Then it started to register with me," Brown remembers.

Since the plane will only turn to the right, the crew makes large circles to get to the airport.

"United 232 you are going to have to widen out just slightly to your left sir, ah, to make the turn to final and also to take you away from the city," said Air Traffic Controller Kevin Bachman.

"Whatever you do keep us away from the city," Haynes told him at the time.

Seven minutes later Haynes said, "We're going to try for the airport."

"We had the runway made, we knew that," he remembers.

"When we watched him come in, he was "wings level, his gear was down. We all thought, "piece of cake," Brown says.

But, on approach, the plane is traveling almost two times faster than normal. About 10 seconds before touchdown, the plane dipped to the right one last time.

"It reached in and took your breath away," remembers for KTIV Anchor Dave Nixon Sr.

"You honestly didn't think that anyone could survive. You're first thought is... everybody's killed," says Brown.

One-hundred-twelve people on board died, but even more, 184 survived.  Many survivors say they owe their lives to the man at the 232's controls.

Monday night, on "NewsChannel Four at Ten", we'll take you inside the cockpit and ask Captain Al Haynes what happened on that fateful flight.

We'll also mark the anniversary with a half hour special at 10:30 on July 19th.        

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