One Man Saved 185 Lives 27 Years Ago Today, After Years of Practice
Photo Credit: Jim Lee, AP
"We’re Not Going to Make the Runway, Fellas. We’re Gonna Have To Ditch…” Captain Al Haynes, United 232, July 19, 1989
These were the words uttered to Chicago Center from Al Haynes, Captain of United Flight 232, on the afternoon of July 19, 1989.
Moments before, the tail mounted Number 2 engine (of the 3 on board) on their DC-10 had catastrophically suffered a fan blade malfunction. The shattered fan blade destroyed the engine and severed critical lines to all three hydraulic systems, rendering the aircraft flight surfaces practically dead and uncontrollable to the flight crew. As the flight crew struggled to unsuccessfully gain control, the pilot began to prepare the flight crew for the seemingly inevitable crash.
The fatally injured jumbo jet was carrying 296 souls on board at 37,000 feet en route to Chicago from Denver.
The Captain, Al Haynes, was a veteran pilot. Before this flight, he had nearly 30,000 hours as a commercial pilot. That is a huge amount of takeoffs and landings without a hitch. Before joining United Airlines, he had served in the Unites State Marine Corp as a pilot. He was certified to fly many airplanes and had a great deal of experience on the DC-10. He was accompanied by two additional competent men in the cockpit and a United Airlines training pilot flying in the passenger compartment, who rushed to the cockpit to assist after the engine suffered its damage.
Al and his crew began to inventory what worked in the aircraft. When it became obvious the hydraulic systems were completely inoperative, they concluded the only way to fly the aircraft was by varying the thrust of the remaining two wing mounted engines. By varying the thrust from each side, they could turn, slightly level the aircraft, and somewhat control the level of decent. For the next 44 minutes, they fought the handicapped aircraft on approach to Sioux City, Iowa, the nearest airport.
Al also had to prepare the flight attendants for the (hoped for) landing. He instructed them about his call over the PA to "brace, brac