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August 28, 2019 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Al Haynes, pilot who made the "impossible landing" of United 232, has died at 87.

From the NTSB review: "On July 19, 1989 a DC-10-10 operated by United Airlines as flight 232, experienced a catastrophic failure of the No. 2 tail-mounted engine during cruise flight. The separation, fragmentation and forceful discharge of stage 1 fan rotor assembly parts from the No. 2 engine led to the loss of the three hydraulic systems that powered the airplane's flight controls. The flight crew experienced severe difficulties controlling the airplane, which subsequently crashed during an attempted landing at Sioux Gateway Airport, Iowa. There were 285 passengers and 11 crewmembers onboard. One flight attendant and 110 passengers were fatally injured."

Popular Mechanics: The Crash of United Flight 232
posted by bondcliff (55 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
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."

I believe that they have the Hudson River ditching scenario on a number of flight simulators as well and no one has ever managed to land the plane safely, on water or land.
posted by humuhumu at 7:11 AM on August 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


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posted by sallybrown at 7:14 AM on August 28, 2019


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posted by Countess Elena at 7:15 AM on August 28, 2019


To give you an idea of just how bad his situation was, when he was told by air traffic controllers that he was cleared for landing on the Sioux City airport, he replied back, “You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?”
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:20 AM on August 28, 2019 [15 favorites]


Haynes's unexpected co-pilot, Dennis Fitch, recounted the experience in Errol Morris's First Person documentary series.

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posted by Doktor Zed at 7:24 AM on August 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


The footage was horrific and yet it depicted a miraculous success.

. to a big, damn hero who seems to have enjoyed the hell out of his retirement.
posted by whuppy at 7:25 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Banjo player Pete Wernick was a passenger on Flight 232. Two days after the crash he played at a Bluegrass festival. Here are the band introductions, including mention of the crash.

Pete went on to write a song about the day. As far as I know there is no existing recording, but lyrics are on this page. (scroll down to "Unrecorded Lyrics" and find "A Day in 89 (You Never Know)"

You’ve seen the coverage on TV
The crew and captain saved a lot of lives
But when the fire and the smoke had cleared
One hundred twelve good people died


"His banjo (a 1988 Gibson Granada) came out of its case and skidded across the tarmac, breaking the neck and beating the crap out of the back of the resonator. Gibson provided a new neck. Pete tried replacing the resonator, but didn't like the sound, so he would play the banjo with the beat-up resonator"
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on August 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


Among unexpected events which helped saved lives:

* Two Sioux City hospitals — including a regional burn center — were in the midst of shift change. That meant more people were available to treat survivors.

* The Iowa Air National Guard was on duty at the Sioux City airport for their once a month training session. Nearly 300 airmen assisted with search, rescue and triage.

* The 45 minutes between the exploded engine and the crash allowed rescuers from surrounding communities to get to the airport along with local authorities.

The final National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash credited the massive rescue effort with saving 41 people who would have otherwise died after the crash.
posted by blob at 7:38 AM on August 28, 2019 [31 favorites]


. Sometimes you have a good day, regardless of The Undertoad.
posted by Oyéah at 7:41 AM on August 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


The Popular Mechanics article is great reading, and left me in tears. Pilots make me unafraid to fly; I've known a couple who landed planes intact after adverse circumstances. I'm guessing this is before they foamed runways, or that airport didn't have the capability. And I'm curious why they didn't dump fuel.

Thanks for posting, Al Haynes was a badass hero.
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posted by theora55 at 7:41 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


The House Theatre of Chicago has a play about this crash called United Flight 232 that is a beautiful and haunting piece of theatre. I found a video clip, which captures the simplicity of it.

What really stayed with me from seeing it is the moment when the flight attendant who has been our main narrator of the show realizes that there is nothing to be done to protect the babies on the plane. She's instructing a mother to lay her baby down at her feet, as part of the bracing for impact, and realizing that nothing is going to help. The direction, the acting, and the writing made that moment such a gut punch.

It's a really well done piece of documentary theatre.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:45 AM on August 28, 2019 [10 favorites]


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posted by tobascodagama at 8:01 AM on August 28, 2019


After about 45 minutes of tense maneuvering, Haynes got on the loudspeaker.

I'd probably rather just jump out of the plane and take my chances than ride through the 45 minutes of weird lurches and torques and noises as they tried to steer the thing with the throttles.
posted by thelonius at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


My god, that Popular Mechanics article. By a weird coincidence, I just finished rereading The Right Stuff, and Haynes sure as hell had the righteous stuff in superhuman quantities.
posted by COBRA! at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Genius improvisor.
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posted by j_curiouser at 8:09 AM on August 28, 2019


I believe that they have the Hudson River ditching scenario on a number of flight simulators as well and no one has ever managed to land the plane safely, on water or land.

The NTSB report recreated the incident in flight simulators (PDF, pp.50-1). If I'm reading it correctly (and I may not be), immediately heading to an airport was successful in about half of the simulations, and all simulations of landing in the Hudson were successful. Of course, "pilots were fully briefed on the maneuver before they attempted to perform it in the simulator." Technical skill is one thing; decision making in a crisis is another.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:13 AM on August 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


I believe that they have the Hudson River ditching scenario on a number of flight simulators as well and no one has ever managed to land the plane safely, on water or land.

In the more general sense, due to the complexities of fluid mechanics in marginal control situations (near stall), and the lack of flight data under these hazardous conditions, simulators have not to date done a good job at simulating these conditions, so the fact that people can't get the simulator to do it says more about the limits of the simulator than the skills of the flight crew.

Which doesn't mean the flight crews didn't work a miracle, just that the simulator evidence isn't capable of supporting the argument.
posted by cardboard at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2019 [10 favorites]


And I'm curious why they didn't dump fuel.

I imagine the fuel dump procedure required use of hydraulics?
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:17 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Haynes did so many hard things right that day, it's always hard to hear how haunted he was by surviving the crash. Air traffic had offered an easier approach which he declined because it would put a residential area at risk. And not only getting Fitch into the cockpit but handing both throttles over to him was a real act of humility under pressure that I'm not sure a lot of captains could have risen to.

The theory at least among pilots I've talked to is that the attitude-via-throttle trick that Fitch figured out on the fly is not modeled well (if at all) in the simulators which is why nobody has replicated it. God knows every DC-10 pilot within a thousand miles of a simulator tried their damnedest.
posted by range at 8:17 AM on August 28, 2019 [13 favorites]


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posted by wotsac at 8:24 AM on August 28, 2019


> And I'm curious why they didn't dump fuel.

The tailstrike.com account of the incident says they dumped fuel during the approach to landing.
posted by ardgedee at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


I assume that otherwise they tried to conserve fuel for as long as they could because revving the remaining engines was the only way they could steer or manage altitude. They didn't have the means to make a controlled glide.
posted by ardgedee at 8:29 AM on August 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


Yeah there's an interview with either Haynes or Fitch out there where they basically say the same thing -- normally you would dump fuel but the throttles were the only way to steer, and they spent some time basically stalling (sorry) to make time for some combination of Fitch learning how to fly, lining up their shot at the runway via a series of totally insane big looping paths, and getting the maximum number of emergency services to the airport as possible before they hit the ground. Once they dumped fuel it was basically all over and they were all just passengers on a freight train that somehow got a couple hundred feet into the air.
posted by range at 8:42 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Jesus, my heart is pounding reading that Popular Mechanics piece.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


If I'm not mistaken, they were only able to turn slightly to the right via throttling the engines.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:47 AM on August 28, 2019


I believe that they have the Hudson River ditching scenario on a number of flight simulators as well and no one has ever managed to land the plane safely, on water or land.

You might be thinking of the Gimli Glider, which ran out of fuel partly due to a units conversion mixup. There were no serious injuries in the plane or on the ground, but all of the attempts to recreate it in a simulator ended in a crash.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:56 AM on August 28, 2019 [8 favorites]



posted by Gelatin at 9:16 AM on August 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, 52 children were on board, 4 were lap children without their own seats. Of those four babies the flight attendant asked parents to sit on the floor, only one died. A total of 11 children died on the flight.

13 people on the flight suffered no injury at all.
posted by teleri025 at 9:17 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


They didn't have the means to make a controlled glide.

Related I think is Fitch's decision to max out the engine power for landing. This probably contributed to the disintegration of the plane, but he knew that if he didn't they were just going to plummet.
posted by atoxyl at 9:26 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


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Nikolas Means made a fantastic presentation on this crash, I highly recommend checking it out.
posted by LiteS at 9:46 AM on August 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


The fact that NTSB required metallurgy samples of all major components helped to ensure this didn't happen again. Inclusions were found in the metal in the failed turbo generator. Think of that: every batch of metal used in aircraft has to have a sample kept for the life of the aircraft.
posted by scruss at 9:53 AM on August 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


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posted by the thought-fox at 9:57 AM on August 28, 2019


I have a real, possibly morbid interest in watching or reading about air craft disasters and near-misses. I think it's because I'm super curious about the decision-making and problem-solving attempts that go on in high-pressure situations.

The first time I saw a show about this crash was a show on (I think) the Discovery Channel in the early 90's, I guess. It was before we had the fancy graphics now used to recreate crashes/failures/flights. It impressed the hell out of me even so. I've seen many other shows on aircraft disasters since, and this one really stands out to me.

They were So. CLOSE. to making it down in relative safety. So very close.

Denny Fitch passed a few years ago.

All those guys were amazing.

Rest in Power, Capt. Haynes.

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posted by Archer25 at 10:25 AM on August 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


The short documentary posted earlier with Denny Fitch is quite worth the watch, esp. the last 5 minutes where he details two disparate encounters with survivors from the crash.
posted by Khazk at 10:25 AM on August 28, 2019


A previous thread on the subject linked to video recording of a talk given by Al Haynes; unfortunately that talk has since been removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim. It was very informative and moving and it's unfortunate that it's been taken offline. However, there is a transcript of that talk (or a similar talk) online here. This is one of the parts that stuck with me:
It was children's day unfortunately, on United, we had some 30 children on the airplane, a lot of them traveling by themselves. [The actual number was 52.] What the flight attendants did were ask the adults to move, so that there was at least one adult sitting next to every child. And the passengers cooperated without hesitation.
I can't imagine what everybody on that plane must have been feeling. But, in this terrifying situation, where there is an absolutely understandable instinct for self-preservation, every adult who was asked to do something to help a child on that plane did so. One passenger even ran back into the burning wreck to save a baby:
You've heard--I KNOW you remember this story, I'm sure you do if I recall it. There was an infant, that was separated from her parents. And one of our survivors, Gary (Schimel ??), was just leaving the airplane, getting out of that thing, full of smoke, fire, and he heard the baby crying. And he went back into the airplane, searching for the baby, found her in an overhead bin, she'd actually been thrown up into an overhead bin, and took her out. So that's the kind of way the passengers responded and cooperated with everybody.
Becoming a parent has changed me in ways that make these stories just wreck my heart.

There is a photo from the crash of a rescuer carrying a three-year-old child who survived. It reminds me of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo of the firefighter and the baby from the Oklahoma City bombing. The baby did not survive, and I remember that people at the time seemed very affected by what the photo represented, bothered that anyone could harm a baby in such a way, and moved by the way the firefighter looked at that baby and carried her in his arms. And I think about similar but more recent photos, of the Syrian Kurdish child who died in the Mediterranean a few years ago, and of the father and daughter who died this year in the Rio Grande when he tried to save her from drowning. (I'm not linking any of those other photos right now.)

It bothers me that these more recent photos seem to change nothing, that there are people who can see them and remain unaffected. It bothers me that so many people can be unaffected by their country's intentional traumatization of children. That they would prefer their government harm a child rather than having to possibly live alongside the undocumented parents of that child.

I'm sorry; I know this is a thread about Al Haynes. But every time I think about UA 232, I think about how many kids were on that plane, and how the response to the disaster embodies something very fundamental about what it means to be human. I was a child in Iowa when UA 232 crashed, and I remember watching it on TV with my mom during summer vacation. I remember watching the plane burn, and thinking, wait, this is happening now? This is something that's happening right now, in this state where nothing ever seems to happen?

It was a real "look for the helpers" moment for me when I was a kid. Looking at the event now, as an adult, as a parent, I am far more concerned than I was when I watched the plane burn on live TV as a kid. As kids, we look for the helpers; as adults, we're supposed to be the helpers. I don't know how civil society works when the body politic and its policymakers become unwilling to fulfill that basic obligation.
posted by compartment at 10:29 AM on August 28, 2019 [19 favorites]


Lay your baby on the floor during a plane crash? Jesus, I wonder how many parents could do that.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:06 AM on August 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


The NTSB seat injury map of who got out and who didn't also tells a story all on its own.

And yes, the training at the time was to lay lap infants on the floor. Jan Brown, one of the flight attendants, said it haunted her for years after. She's advocated to have the whole lap infant rule abolished in the US because of this crash.
posted by offalark at 11:20 AM on August 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


"The NTSB seat injury map"

Wow.. so economy plus is apparently worth it.
posted by Grither at 11:25 AM on August 28, 2019


First class, by contrast, was definitely not worth it that day.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:25 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


My ex worked on a lot of disaster documentaries, and she came away with the firm belief that the seats over the wing are the safest during a crash. (Though maybe not one this bad.)
posted by gottabefunky at 11:26 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also: imagine surviving the crash only to die of smoke inhalation.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:27 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also: imagine surviving the crash only to die of smoke inhalation.

This is part of the reason for evacuation timing requirements. They're obviously not perfect (requirements are based on having half (?) of the exits and slides working with a plane full of able-bodied adults), but this is why there are so many doors on modern airliners. Fire spreads quickly and more or less unchecked in aircraft, and a cabin can quickly become engulfed in toxic smoke.

When I fly, I "dress for egress." In an airliner, that means shoes with laces. Sandals, slippers, etc. can all be easily lost and don't allow you to exit a burning airplane in a hurry if you need to. And then you're who knows where - probably on hot tarmac surrounded by debris, firefighting foam, and diesel with no shoes on.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:46 AM on August 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


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I grew up living just down the street from Mr. Haynes. Didn’t interact with him all that much, but he was a pleasant guy, smiled and waved, all that jazz. When people talk about “everyday heroes,” he’s often one that I picture. His heroism wasn’t an everyday thing, of course, but he seemed to me very much the same kind of neighbor before and after. We should all have such grace.
posted by cupcakeninja at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2019 [10 favorites]


backseatpilot: there are a lot of military pilots in my life. Thus, I never take a flight wearing anything with any synthetic fiber content because of fire risk in a survivable crash.

Of course, I still have a small panic attack every time I am on a flight that people around me will try to take their possessions with them, instead of getting the fuck off the plane and out of everyone else's way. I just can't bring myself to trust the strangers around me in a moment of crisis.

On the other hand, I'm always willing to trust that my flight crew are as capable and lucky as this crew was.

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posted by crush at 12:23 PM on August 28, 2019 [10 favorites]


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The author of the Popular Mechanics piece, Laurence Gonzales, also wrote a book-length account of the disaster called Flight 232. It's a very good work of narrative nonfiction, if sometimes hard to read.
posted by karayel at 12:55 PM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]



posted by briank at 1:06 PM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won

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posted by Bee'sWing at 1:26 PM on August 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


Think of that: every batch of metal used in aircraft has to have a sample kept for the life of the aircraft.

Thank you to Big Government, regulations, and the staff and agencies that adminster these regulations.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2019 [13 favorites]


My ex worked on a lot of disaster documentaries, and she came away with the firm belief that the seats over the wing are the safest during a crash.

My partner worked in aircraft crash investigation and he has the same opinion.
posted by andraste at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Harrowing.

Though reddit as always is hit or miss, the subreddit r/catatastrophicfailure has u/AdmiralCloudberg posting a riveting analysis each week in readable form of plane crashes, a series he's kept running for the past 2 years.  This particular subreddit is thankfully a lot better moderated and less sensationalist than its name might imply.  The write ups are highly informative and very eye opening if you've ever wondered about how we've learned to minimize crashes as we have.

Here's a list of all 100+. Here's the specific thread of Flight 232, from early in the series, and a direct link to the write up on Imgur.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


I know that denial is a big part of the human operating system, but this was outrageous:

On the radio, Dvorak was pleading for help from United Airlines Systems Aircraft Maintenance in San Francisco, but the United engineers kept repeating that what Dvorak was describing was impossible.

I can't understand telling someone who is experiencing something that they're not experiencing that thing. The people in San Francisco had been called because there was an emergency. Why would they insist - during the emergency - that the emergency was impossible? That's crazy-making, to me. If you can't offer any help, just say, "Shit, we don't know. Never thought of that one." But don't deny the facts.

And for Captain Haynes:

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posted by bryon at 10:05 PM on August 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


MrSedai's cousin perished on that flight. Her Mom and twin sister were never the same.

Sleep sweet, Al. You did your very best. Say hi to Susie for us.
posted by MissySedai at 10:51 PM on August 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


I grew up around small planes—my dad built 2 planes in the garage when I was in grade school (towed to a hanger at the local airport when it was time to attach the wings)—I've never lost my fascination with the mechanics of flight. I've read/reread multiple accounts of this flight over the years (will do so again today) and never tire of the story. Haynes is one of my heroes.

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posted by she's not there at 6:20 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Lay your baby on the floor during a plane crash? Jesus, I wonder how many parents could do that.

I don't have kids, but I have flown with my cat a few times, and I've thought about it in that context. Her carrier fits under the seat in front of me, and I'm pretty sure that's still the safest place for her in a crash.

I know that in that situation, no one has the strength needed to actually hold on to anything. It will be thrown from your hands. Even if that weren't true, you need your hands for bracing yourself. On the floor, against the seat in front of you, minimizes travel when the child or object is thrown forward in the crash. You need to be up against a restraint - if not a belt, then a fixed wall or object is the next best thing.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:32 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


1st time I flew with a baby, you couldn't use the car seat you brought with you - they haven't been tested, yadda. I got the reasoning, but I hated having to hold my baby because even bad turbulence would be really bad.
posted by theora55 at 11:42 PM on August 30, 2019


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