Sioux City couple answered the call for volunteers after Flight - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Sioux City couple answered the call for volunteers after Flight 232 crash

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Dick and Pat Collins of Sioux City both volunteered in the aftermath of the crash of United Flight 232 in 1989 Dick and Pat Collins of Sioux City both volunteered in the aftermath of the crash of United Flight 232 in 1989
Pat still gets emotional when she recalls a young victim whose autopsy she witnessed while volunteering in the morgue at the 185th Pat still gets emotional when she recalls a young victim whose autopsy she witnessed while volunteering in the morgue at the 185th
Dick Collins was a member of the 185th in 1989. He volunteered to help pick up debris and body parts from the airfield after the crash Dick Collins was a member of the 185th in 1989. He volunteered to help pick up debris and body parts from the airfield after the crash
Dick and Pat Collins share their experiences with KTIV's Al Joens in the backyard of their Sioux City home Dick and Pat Collins share their experiences with KTIV's Al Joens in the backyard of their Sioux City home
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) - Siouxland's legacy in the crash of United Flight 232 is the way the community responded.  From dozens of small-town fire crews that raced to the airport to the hundreds of people who headed to the blood bank to make a donation, countless people stepped up to help in any way they could.

A Sioux City husband and wife answered the call for volunteers in the wake of the crash.  Pat Collins had just started working part time at Terra.

"The airport board was meeting in the 3rd floor conference room at the Terra Centre," she said.  "The call came in that there was a plane in distress.  I went in and told the people in the board room and they kind of looked at me in dismay and said, 'This can't be true; we don't have that big of aircraft coming in.'  Probably five minutes later, you could see smoke billowing from the airport.  We could see it out the Terra windows."

Pat's husband, Dick, was also involved.

"I was in the Air National Guard at the time of the crash and the day of the crash, I think I was playing golf," he explained.  "That plane actually came over Green Valley, right over the clubhouse, basically, and we knew that that plane was probably not gonna make it."

Pat Collins explained how she came to volunteer in the aftermath.
"I was then asked by someone at Terra if I would consider working in the morgue after a day or two and I did that for two-and-a-half days," she said.

Dick Collins said, "The air guard called for volunteers, because we weren't on the weekend duty at that time, so we went out and reported.  We basically were made up into teams and scoured the different areas out there at the airport picking up debris, and, unfortunately, body parts and so forth."

Pat Collins
"I suppose that they thought perhaps I'm maybe a strong individual that I could handle it because it was extremely hard.  It was a hard job to do."

Her strength was put to the test as Pat watched and documented autopsies as they were performed on the bodies of those who had died.  She remembers one victim in particular: a little girl about 6 or 8 years old.

"Her little fingernails were polished every other finger and she had on like friendship bracelets and I just wished, even today, that I could find her parents to let them know how beautiful of a little girl she was and how we respected each body," she said.

Counseling was made available to volunteers, but Dick and Pat chose instead to lean on each other.

"We talked," said Dick.  "And there were images where she could not, you know, she had to let her emotions out, you know.  And we cried, you know, thinking about this person, that person.  What if it had been us?  That child could have been our child.  That parent could have been our parent."

Asked if there was ever a moment where she asked what she had gotten herself into, Pat said no.

"We we doing this, we were kind of on an automatic forward motion," she said.

A quarter century ago, Pat and Dick Collins stepped up and did what they could to help in the face of tragedy.

"I felt very strong about it and I would do it again," said Pat.

Today, it's changed the way they look at life and they never take the next day for granted.

The Collins' opened their hearts--and they opened their home.  One of the surviving passengers stayed with them for several days before he went home to New Jersey.

The community's response to the crash of United Flight 232 was noted well beyond Siouxland.  The following year, Sioux City was named an All-America City with an award presented by President George Bush.
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