Fight 232 Air Traffic Controller: "There's nothing we can do to - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Fight 232 Air Traffic Controller: "There's nothing we can do to help them"


When United Airlines Flight 232 crashed, on July 19, 1989, few knew anything about the plane. Kevin Bachman, the air traffic controller on duty, at Sioux Gateway, that day, was one of the few who did.

He spent 36 harrowing minutes talking with 232's captain trying to guide the DC-10 to a safe landing in Sioux City. "When Minneapolis Center called, and said he had an emergency inbound, he said he had difficulty controlling the aircraft," said Kevin Bachman, Fmr. Sioux Gateway Air Traffic Controller.

What Bachman didn't know yet was that pilot Al Haynes had almost no control of the aircraft. "He really didn't state that he didn't have any control over the aircraft," Bachman said. "That's a huge difference." On the cockpit voice recorder, Haynes makes a dire prediction. "I have serious doubts about making the airport," Haynes said. "We may have to put it down wherever it happens to be."

Bachman was very frank with his supervisor, Mark Zielezinski. "I told him, 'there's 300 people on board this flight, and there's not a darn thing we can do to help them'," Bachman said.

Bachman knew a crash was coming, and started pointing out two-lane highways in the plane's path. "You're talking about a lot of farmland, limited access," Bachman said. "You've still got 300 people on this aircraft. If they impact far away from a major road, equipment and emergency vehicles will not be able to get to them whatever number of survivors you have." But, somehow the crew found a way to regain some control. Haynes made one final turn toward the airport. A hopeful sign for Bachman from a seemingly hopeless situation. "As soon as he made the turn, and lined up, I mean it just looked so good," said Bachman.

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. "We went from 30-plus minutes of everybody is going to die, to 'oh my God, here's going to make it'," Bachman said. "It was like having your heart ripped out because all I could see was a little bit of the tail section, and the United logo on the ground, and then debris."

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 understand how they made it to the airport." In the 25-years since the crash, Bachman has come to believe one thing. "It was just a miracle the way it all happened."


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