Remembering Flight 232 - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Remembering Flight 232


"I thought it was a bomb,” recalled Capt. Al Haynes, Flight 232 Pilot.

Haynes issued "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,” said 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.

"Very little control. No hydraulics, no fluids,” Haynes told air traffic control July 19, 1989.

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

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,” Jerry Schemmel, 232 Passenger said.

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,” said Gary Brown, Woodbury Co. Emergency Services Director.

“We all went to our stand-by positions, and just listened to the radio, and listened to the tower," Jim Hathaway, 185th FW Fire Chief recalled.

The chatter is encouraging.

"We're getting some control up here,” Haynes radioed back.

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

Using throttles to maneuver, "We have a little bit of control back. We'll head for Sioux City," he radioed.

"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 remembered.

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,” Kevin Bachman, Air Traffic Controller radioed back to Haynes.

Whatever you do keep us away from the city,” Haynes told him.

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

"We had the runway made, we knew that,” recalled Haynes years later.

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

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,” said for KTIV anchor, Dave Nixon, Sr.

"You honestly didn't think that anyone could survive. You're first thought is, everybody's killed,” said Brown. "You could see the aircraft actually stand up on its nose, and, he was coming apart. You honestly didn't think that anyone could survive,” he added.

But, somehow, some did.

"We were driving down the runway, and seen a group of seats come sliding through the smoke. And, a person in a middle seat unbuckled their seat belt and got up and started walking away," Hathaway remembered.

"I'll never forget, there was two ladies, and two kids. The first thought that went through my head was 'there was a field trip or something out here. And, nobody told them that an airplane was gonna crash. They were showing the kids the airport, or something.' Cause nobody could have survived the crash. They had to have been injured by being on the ground. A couple of seconds later it registers that these are people coming from seats out of the airplane. They're coming from the fuselage. You're totally focused on your job, taking care of patients," said Brown.

Jim Hathaway's job was to put out the fire now consuming the main cabin of the plane.

"That was hard, especially when you had people asking for help, and they were still in their seats. Our job was the fire, and the aircraft. I had to order my people to leave them 'cause our job was the fire,” said Hathaway.

After two hours, the fire was out. Crews had triaged and treated 184 patients.

"There isn't hardly a day that goes by that I don't think about it,” Hathaway said.

For Hathaway, talking about the tragedy helped him cope. Hathaway retired from the 185th in 1997. He passed away in December of 2009. Gary Brown has literally built on the lessons learned from the crash.

"I wanted something good to come out of that tragedy,” explained Brown.

He, and many others, campaigned for the money to build the Security Institute at Western Iowa Tech, the home to the county's 9-1-1 call center, and a unique system allowing dozens of different agencies to talk to each other.

"We knew we couldn't talk to each other, and we knew why we couldn't talk to each other. That was magnified on July 19th, 1989,” said Brown.

Now, when disaster strikes, the institute serves as a central operations center for local, state, and federal agencies.

"Its been a winding road to get to where we are today. But, I don't think we'd have ever gotten to this point had it not been for the recognition our community received for the way we responded to that incident," said Brown

A legacy that lives on, long after the tragedy that transformed a community, and countless lives.

One-hundred-twelve people on board died, but even more-- 184 people--survived.

Many survivors say they owe their lives to the man at the 232's controls.

Haynes said the guilt of surviving that crash has been the hardest thing to deal with.

"The guilt that you have is still there," said Haynes. "I've learned to accept it. My injuries were nothing. My biggest problem, well was my concussion. But, the guilt of survival was my biggest problem. And, to deal with that was not easy,” he added.

Haynes has found a unique way to deal with the disaster, and his post-trauma stress.

He talks about it a lot to groups all across the country.

KTIV's Matt Breen sits down with Haynes for an exclusive interview, Monday night, on "News Four at Ten".


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