Al Haynes, Pilot From Miraculous 1989 Crash Landing, Has Died

Aug 26, 2019
Originally published on August 27, 2019 11:44 am

A pilot who is credited with saving dozens of lives has died. United Flight 232 went into total hydraulic failure while Al Haynes was at the controls in 1989. With the help of three other pilots, he maneuvered the DC-10 to a miraculous crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, and 184 of the 296 people on board survived.

Haynes is widely seen as a hero among aviation experts, akin to Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his "miracle on the Hudson." Haynes' son Dan confirmed to NPR that his father had died.

Haynes was in the middle of the flight from Denver to Chicago when an engine suddenly failed. Shortly after that, First Officer Bill Records said he was unable to control the aircraft, as Haynes later recounted to New York magazine.

"I thought to myself, How are we going to keep this thing in the sky? You don't train or drill for something like this, because it's just not supposed to happen," he said. The hydraulic system — the way that pilots steer — was down. Haynes and his colleagues were desperately trying to use the throttles and thrust as a crude way to control the aircraft. A pilot who happened to be flying as a passenger on the plane jumped in to manipulate the thrusters.

The team was aiming to touch down in Sioux City. After about 45 minutes of tense maneuvering, Haynes got on the loudspeaker.

"I'm not going to kid you," he said to the passengers, as he told New York. "We're going to make an emergency landing in Sioux City. ... It's going to be a very hard landing, harder than anything you've been through. Please pay close attention to the flight attendants' briefing, and we'll see you in Sioux City."

The plane touched down with no brakes or spoilers. The cockpit crew lowered the landing gear to try to absorb the shock of landing, Haynes told New York. When it did land, one of the plane's wings caught the ground and sent the craft cartwheeling down the runway. "I was knocked out after we hit, and I came to in the crash site," said Haynes.

NPR's Howard Berkes was at the scene of the crash in 1989 and described the wreckage.

"There's one particular pile of aluminum — at least, that's what it looks like, an unruly stack of crumpled aluminum," he said. "Well, that's actually the cockpit of the plane. It doesn't resemble a cockpit or anything else for that matter. And one of the amazing facts about this whole tragedy is ... that three people — the cockpit crew — were found alive in that pile of junk."

Haynes told New York that he felt guilty about surviving the crash in which 112 people died.

But the fact that anyone survived is viewed as miraculous. Other pilots have attempted the landing in simulations. As Berkes reported, United pilot Mike Hamilton told The Associated Press that he's "not aware of any that replicated the success these guys had. ... Most of the simulations never made it close to the ground."

In its official accident report, the NTSB said that on a fan disk, there was a "fatigue crack" stemming from a defect in a "critical area." The disk disintegrated during the flight, which resulted in debris that affected the plane's flight controls.

Haynes retired in 1991 after working for United Airlines for 35 years, according to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

In Seattle, the museum added, he was "a volunteer umpire for Little League Baseball for over 33 years and a stadium announcer for high school football for over 25 years."

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