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Al Haynes, Who Captained United Flight 232 When It Crashed In Sioux City, Dies At 87


Long before Sully Sullenberger landed a jet in the Hudson River, another pilot and his crew were cast as heroes for a miracle landing of their own. Captain Al Haynes commanded United Flight 232 as it crashed landed at the airport in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989. One hundred twelve people died, but 184 survived. Now comes news that Haynes has died, and Howard Berkes has this remembrance.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Listen to what pilot Al Haynes and his crew and his passengers went through at 37,000 feet in July 1989. The tail engine of the DC-10 blew, and the hydraulic lines were cut.


AL HAYNES: Which means we have no elevator control - almost none - and very little aileron control. I have serious doubts about making the airport. Unless we get control of this airplane, we're going to put it down wherever it happens to be.

BERKES: Haynes was 57 then. His immediate response kept the plane airborne as it dipped dangerously. Then he and his flight crew and a pilot trainer who happened to be aboard manually manipulated thrusters, aiming for the nearest airport - Sioux City, Iowa. They could only keep the plane bearing right, but still managed to line up with the airport.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You're cleared to land on any runway.

HAYNES: (Laughter) You want to be particular and make it a runway.

BERKES: That moment of levity was followed by this. In an NPR interview, author Laurence Gonzales repeated what a passenger told him.


LAURENCE GONZALES: (Reading) He watched in amazement as, quote, "a woman still strapped in her seat flew past me on the other side." A ball of fire roared down the aisle above him. Then the vessel arched into the air, breaking up further as it angled over, pirouetted and slammed down onto its back.

BERKES: One hundred twelve people died; 184 lived. Haynes spoke at a news conference, his face cut and bruised.


HAYNES: There is no hero. There are just a group of four people who did their job. And it was an unusual circumstance, but we put our best resources and knowledge together and did what we thought was best.

BERKES: In 2008, survivor Martha Conant remembered her experience for the NPR segment StoryCorps.


MARTHA CONANT: That event was like being picked up by the scruff of the neck and shaken, and God says, this is your only life. Just be grateful that you've got these days and these hours and these wonderful people in your life. Just be grateful for that.

BERKES: Many of the survivors of Flight 232 were grateful for Captain Al Haynes and his crew. Haynes' second chance at life ended yesterday in a hospital in Seattle. He was 87 years old.

For NPR News, I'm Howard Berkes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.