United Sioux City Crash Pilot Al Haynes Has Died at Age 87

The captain of the 1989 United Sioux City crash, United flight 232, has died. Al Haynes “never considered himself a hero” giving credit for saving lives on board to the rest of the crew.

Here is a really impressive video simulation of accident, that combines air traffic control and contemporary news footage to give an understanding of what happened that day on July 19.

The Sioux City crash is one of the most famous of the last forty years. A DC-10 from Denver’s old Stapleton airport to Chicago O’Hare had 296 passengers and crew on board. 111 people died in the United Sioux City crash, but it’s considered a miracle and a testament to the crew on board that the rest survived.

Pilots landed the plane without full control, flight attendants got passengers off the aircraft once on the ground, and emergency responders at the airport — who had just drilled for a similar incident the week before — all made survival for 185 people possible.

This 16 year old DC-10 had 43,401 hours and 16,997 cycles under its belt. The captain had 33 years of experience and over 30,000 flight hours with United.

At 37,000 feet the tail mounted engine exploded and disintegrated. Debris punctured the plane’s hydraulics and it would not longer respond to controls. There were no procedures for total loss of hydraulics on a DC-10. The cockpit crew managed the level the aircraft by adjusting power to the remaining engines.

They declared an emergency and tried to head for Sioux City. When air traffic control told them they were cleared to land, they were told “any runway.” Captain Haynes, somehow mustering gallows humor, replied “You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?”

They planned to land on runway 31 but lack of control of the aircraft prevented them from lining up for it. They dumped fuel and managed to make a series of right hand turns, ultimately lining up with the shorter (and permanently closed) runway 22.

The DC-10 came down fast without flaps or slats. The right wing hit the runway, spilled fuel, and caught fire. Part of the tail broke off. The rest of the plane started to break apart as well.

Some passengers died from the impact. Others died from smoke inhalation. Sadly the flight had 52 children on board. Eleven children died, including one lap infant and several unaccompanied minors.

There was a fatigue crack in the engine fan disk. The NTSB blamed the United Sioux City crash on the airline’s engine overhaul facility for the failure. GE learned from this crash to adjust its engine production process to reduce the changes of metal fatigue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Out of the topic but, I wanted to check the 99 virgins blog entry and it disappeared before I had a chance to. What happened there?

  2. Haynes and his crew did an amazingly resourceful job of landing an uncontrollable airliner. Kudos and RIP, Captain.

  3. @Blitzer

    You are correct, this is off topic.

    Please give the rest of us a moment to acknowledge the loss of a true aviator. RIP, Captain, and Blue Skies.

  4. A guy I worked with many decades ago. His father was on that flight and was one of the lucky ones. Had to be a terrifying event and make you constantly wonder why some survived and others didn’t. And geez those unaccompanied minors. How horrible for those parents.

  5. Gary, I remember it well and you are letting McDonnell Douglas and the several design flaws of the DC-10 off the hook.

    This was hardly the first design related event. I believe the investigation found that in this case, it was poor design to have the redundant hydraulic lines located so close together that they could be taken out in one shot, which is what happened here.

    I remember liking the DC-10 but it had more than its share of crashes directly related to design.

  6. Grew up in Sioux City and know that some of the hospital and emergency personnel still have issues with what they dealt with that day.

  7. Met Captain Haynes once. Truly a hero and a humble man. Very fortunate to have another off duty captain on board who helped manually move the rudder controls located under the cockpit floor.

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