SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Saturday will mark 25 years since one of the deadliest plane crashes ever captured on camera.
United flight 232 was traveling from Denver to Chicago, when it crashed at the Sioux City airport during an emergency landing on July 19, 1989. Out of the 296 passengers on board, 112 died and 184 survived. Many of the passengers were from Colorado.
This weekend, a number of them are returning Sioux City where their lives changed forever. It may be 25 years since United flight 232 crashed, but for those who survived, the memories of the tragedy and heroism seen that day on the tarmac and in a nearby cornfield are still fresh.
United Flight 232 had second-engine failure and no working hydraulic system to steer the plane. The pilot tried to burn off enough fuel before coming into the Sioux City airport for an emergency landing.
What happened next was a violent plane crash captured on video.
"I do remember thinking, 'When is this going to kill me?'" said Bruce Benham, a survivor of United 232.
The plane hit the tarmac with a huge force. The plane burst into flames.
"Until I saw the footage, I thought we had tumbled a number of times, instead of just once," said Brad Bayless, another United #232 Survivor.
Bayless and Benham didn't know each other at the time of the crash, even though they lived about a half-mile away from each other in the Denver metro area. They became friends after the crash, and that friendship is bringing both of them to Sioux City for the 25th anniversary of the crash.
"[There are] a lot of regrets that those that didn't make it and their families are forever affected by it and will never get over it," Benham said.
The commemoration will not only bring together the survivors and families of the victims, but also the surviving flight crew who -despite the violent crash - are credited with helping so many people get out alive.
"What I'd like to do is thank them ... again," Bayless said.
The pilot, Captain Al Haynes, is widely considered to have masterfully guided the plane in, despite the system failures.
"I just think the world of Al Haynes," Benham said.
Many of them will get a chance to tell that to Captain Haynes and the flight crew on Friday night. They will be at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, along with other members of the flight crew and first responders from that day, to discuss what happened and how that tragedy ended up helping so many others down the line.
On Saturday, there will be a dedication of a new memorial garden honoring the victims, near the site of the crash.
Saturday will mark 25 years since the crash of United flight 232. The flight took off from Denver, bound for Chicago, but the plane crashed during an emergency landing at the airport in Sioux City on July 19, 1989.
Crash survivors are gathering for a weekend commemorating what happened. Friday was the start of three days of events in Sioux City, looking back at that tragic day when United 232 crashed there. A lot has changed since then, including things that made it safer for all of us to fly.
That was the focus of a community discussion on Friday night held at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Sioux City. Several hundred people came to hear from those who went through the crash and were first on the scene at the time.
Among the speakers, Captain Al Haynes, who guided the plane in, despite engine loss and the loss of the hydraulic system. Changes were made to the systems of the DC-10, to ensure something like that did not happen again.
Jan Brown, who was the head flight attendant on United 232, shared her experience of what happened to her during the crash. After witnessing what happened to babies and young children on the flight, she has become an advocate for requiring them to have separate seats and proper safety restraints in planes, similar to car seats used in vehicles. She said, in the 25 years since the crash, that effort has remained an uphill battle with the FAA."When you take on a government agency, you're in it for the long haul," she said.
The crowd also heard from first responders, who faced communication challenges after the crash because of the multiple jurisdictions and three states involved in the response: Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Since then, they created a joint emergency operations center, which has become a model for other areas in the country. All of it came about as part of the legacy of flight 232.
"You're not going to forget it, but you do have to accept it. It happened. Why me doesn't work; what if doesn't work. It happened," Capt. Haynes said. "You have to accept it and the best way to accept it is to talk about it."
Capt. Haynes believes so strongly in learning from what happened, that in the 25 years since the crash, he's given more than 1,700 presentations about flight 232. He has donated all of his speaking fees to a scholarship fund.
It was the exact point of impact for United flight 232, which was flying from Denver to Chicago, 25 years ago. On that day, 112 passengers died, when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing at the Sioux City airport.
"To be honest with you, I did not expect to survive," said Donna Treber of Westminster.
Treber is one of the 184 survivors from that day. Her seat was over the right wing of the aircraft.
"That was the wing that hit the concrete," she said, "and when it did that, the plane broke apart and the section I was in cartwheeled down the runway and ended up in a cornfield."
Treber ended up upside down, with a dislocated jaw, but alive. It is stories like hers, which were repeated over and over again in Sioux City, as survivors and the flight crew commemorate what happened there and remember those who did not survive.
"We will never ever, ever forget the 112," said Denver sports broadcaster Jerry Schemmel and a survivor of United 232. "We'll just never do it. We refuse to. I know that I speak for all the survivors when I say I think about them all the time and Captain Haynes does as well."
In a one-on-one interview with 9NEWS, Captain Al Haynes shared his experience from that day and the guilt he still feels to this day.
"Why was I allowed to survive? The guilt of survival was very, very heavy on all of us who survived," he said.
However, he added that those feelings ease up, when he meets with family members of those who died in the crash.
"I always felt they would blame us for the crash," Capt. Haynes said, "but instead they say 'Thank you for trying.' That's a big thing. It means a lot to us."
For the survivors, Capt. Haynes means a lot to them.
"He's just a fantastic person and of course, my hero, for bringing the plane in," Treber said.
"Hero" is not a label Capt. Haynes is comfortable with, but it is one that the crash survivors continue to assign to him over and over again.
Hundreds of people gathered in Sioux City on Saturday to remember the crash of United flight 232. A number of survivors were from the Denver metro area and they gathered at the Mid America Aviation and Transportation Museum in Sioux City, just steps away from where their lives changed forever 25 years ago. Many of them wanted to personally thank the man who sat in the captain's chair of United flight 232.
For Captain Al Haynes, it is a day he won't ever forget and doesn't want to.
"The main thing about this is hearing stories that you never heard before," Capt. Haynes said, in a one-on-one interview with 9NEWS.
Capt. Haynes was at the controls of United flight 232 when it experienced second engine failure and a loss of its hydraulic systems on that summer day in 1989.
"Without the hydraulics, it was very hard to move those controls," he said.
Still, they managed to keep the plane meandering enough to burn off fuel for a half-hour, before bringing the plane in for an emergency landing to the closest airport in Sioux City, Iowa. Then, the plane hit the runway hard, breaking apart when one of the wings hit runway 22.
Captain Haynes said the crashed knocked him out and he did not regain full consciousness until he was in the hospital.
"I have no recollection of the crash at all," he said. "I came to in the wreckage for just a brief couple of seconds."
Others, though, have very clear memories of what happened, along with deep gratitude for Capt. Haynes.
"He's an amazing man and the two of us would not be here today, if it weren't for him," said Brad Bayless, who survived the crash, along with Bruce Benham.
They are both from the Denver metro area and became friends after the crash, when they learned they lived near one another. Both traveled to Sioux City for this weekend's commemoration.
"It was kind of hard to listen to all the names being read of those who didn't survive, but we all have a lot to be thankful for," Benham said, as they stood on runway 22, near the still-visible impact marks of where the plane hit the runway.
Donna Treber of Westminster also survived the crash. She got a chance to thank Capt. Haynes once more—in person.
"He's just a fantastic person and of course, my hero, for bringing the plane in," Treber said. "I feel like I've had 25 bonus years of life."
Yet, despite the fact that so many survivors call him a hero, Capt. Haynes rejects the label.
"I don't believe in the word, but I understand what they mean by it," he said.
He prefers the focus to remain on those who didn't make it and the changes in safety-- for the better-- that came out of the crash.
"It just changed so many things," he said. "So many positives came out of it."
Capt. Haynes is quick to give credit to so many others that day, including air traffic controllers. He said they remained calm under extraordinary circumstances, and, in turn, helped him stay calm. He also gives credit to Dennis Fitch, a DC-10 instructor who happened to be on the plane that day. He helped keep the cockpit informed about what was going on mechanically, in the back of the plane. Fitch passed away a few years ago. Like so many who were on flight 232, though, he and others are not forgotten.
Sunday marked the third and final day commemorating 25 years since the crash of United flight 232. It was a weekend featuring stories of survival under extraordinary circumstances.
Hundreds gathered on runway 22, which used to be a part of the Sioux City airport. They stood at the impact marks, left behind in the tarmac when United flight 232 hit the runway 25 years ago. It is just one of the scars left from that day.
Other scars are not as visible, but are ever present- especially among the survivors.
Donna Treber, who lives in Westminster, managed to get out of the wreckage after the impact.
"It's such an amazing thing to have survived something like that," she said. "And I think that's one of those things that are just in God's hands—it's not anything that you do one way or the other."
However, it is something the survivors honored this weekend, as they thought about those who did not get to go home that day and thanked those who helped them live.
"To be here 25 years later, to have the ability to see it face to face, the flight crew, the flight attendants, the people of Sioux City who saved so many extra lives—is special to all of us," said United 232 survivor Brad Bayless.
Others said it was those who were not there, who made the weekend so emotional.
"The memorial we just did really meant a lot to us," said Bruce Benham, a United 232 survivor. "Really, it was kind of hard to listen to all the names being read of those who didn't survive, but we all have a lot to be thankful for."
The weekend capped off on Sunday with a memorial service in Sioux City, formally marking the end of the 25th anniversary commemoration. Officials said it is likely to be the last one ever to be held for United 232.
Survivors of United 232 got together to remember those who died in the plane crash 25-years ago. 9NEWS at 6, 7 and 8 a.m. on 7/20/2014.
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