Air traffic controller recalls 'helpless' feeling before crash - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Air traffic controller recalls 'helpless' feeling before crash

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) - When Flight 232 crashed, few knew anything about the plane. Except Kevin Bachman, the air traffic controller on duty, at Sioux Gateway, that day.

He spent 45 harrowing minutes talking with 232's captain, trying to guide the DC-10 to a safe landing in Sioux City. "Within about 40-minutes, I got the call that United was coming inbound, Bachman said.

The failure of the fan disc in the plane's tail engine shredded all three of the plane's hydraulic lines. "The center controller advised me that he had one engine out, Bachman said. But, the aircraft had three to start with, so you still have two. That's more than enough to keep aloft."

What Bachman didn't know yet was that pilot Al Haynes had almost no control of the aircraft. "He said he was having trouble controlling the aircraft, Bachman said. I really didn't know how severe until he got on my frequency. I turned to Mark Zielezinski, the supervisor with me. I told him there's basically nothing we could do for these people."

Bachman knew a crash was coming. "Initially, I pointed out small, 2-lane highways out where they were. So, hopefully, when they crash they're by a road, or something so crews could get to them."

But, somehow the crew found a way to regain some control. "After a while, we got better control of the airplane," said Capt. Al Haynes, Flight 232 Pilot (Ret.). "We didn't actually control it, But, we just kinda guided it around."

On approach, Bachman knew the plane was going too fast, but "it looked real good, I thought they were gonna make it."

But, at 3:59pm, 45-minutes after the explosion, the plane's right wing dipped one last time causing the plane to cartwheel down the runway. "For 30 minutes everybody is gonna die, and there's nothing you can do for them," Bachman said. "Then for 5 minutes it looks like they're gonna make it. Then when it hit, and rolled over, and you think everybody's dead, it ripped your heart out."

Despite the destruction, 184 people survived... largely because the plane made it to Sioux City. A fact that still baffles Bachman. "I still don't know how the crew got the plane to the airport."

And, in the 20-years since the crash, Bachman has come to believe one thing. " was just a miracle."

Bachman retired as an air traffic controller, and lives in Seattle, now. He works for a company developing procedures for the FAA.

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