Airplane Crashes -- Flight 232/As Though We Were There
Being lucky enough to have been on airplanes for the last 25 years or so, made us look into this flight 232. A four days study and research took us to that date.
Here is the introduction: Flight 232 from United Airlines took off from Colorado on July 19, 1989 at 2:13 p.m. (14:13 p.m). Final destination was Philly, making a stop at O'hare International in Chicago. At about 3:15 p.m. flying above 36,500 feet, the structural strentgh was put to the test. A big jolt was felt a minute later. For the next 44 minutes passengers felt the worse experience of their lives. just picture the great adventure ride at Six flags. Engine two that is mounted on the back wing lost total functionality. Gathering enough information we wanted to experience the moment. There were 12% seats empty, so we decided to take a flight with them: Our assigned seat? First class: 5F
Perfect animation of the flight!
In the Beginning...
Stapleton International Airport
1:16 p.m. (13:16:00)
Was visiting a relative from the Airforce Base, and made it just in time to take my flight back home to Sioux City. To my surprise, it was a boring Wednesday of that July 19, 1989. The airfare was not important, because my company chose first class even before I could make a choice of my own.
The weird thing was that...was that... I felt as though I was in the wrong place. Don't you just have sometimes that hunch? Just waited behind a long line and the Check-in. It was done with no further problems at all. We were 285 plus one soul entering that plane. Parents making sure kids were paying attention and some were young lives heading to Chicago. I didn't have time to do much on that gate, because people were already boarding by 1:50 p.m. We saw the main cabin from the gate. A grey haired Captain was moving his head up and down, I guess checking engines and flight controls.
The take off was not delayed at all. Was easier than anything. A piece of cake for modern aeronautical engineering. This pilot made our flight as comfortable as possible. Here is Captain Alfred C. Haines's first words:
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is your Captain. We are heading North east according to Tower Control here at O'Hare -- temperatures will be in the middle 80's, bluest sky as you can see. On behalf of the crew and ourselves, we want to thank you for flying United."
Next, we hear a flight attendant : "Please remained seated until the plane has reached cruising altitude and the 'fasten your seat belt light goes off completely." A pre-recorded voice follows: Federal regulations prohibit the use of electronic devices while taking off..."
All seemed to be fine... until...
We were already getting our special hot plate of the day by a gorgeous senior flight attendant. Shrimp linguine... When we felt a jolt.
Have you ever been parked on your car garage and all of a sudden you feel two heavy-set youngsters jump and fall on your rear end bumper? Just add a cheap noise from fire crackers from a 4th of July weekend... We knew something was going on. The captain had turned off the seat belts lights at 2:35 p.m. "Flight attendants please remained seated.." Second Officer Dudley Dvorak, flight engineer, realized that the plane lost complete hydraulic pressure within the next four minutes. "You gotta be kidding me!" responded Captain Haines.
What happened?.. and we didn't know?
After reaching those cruising 37,000 miles the plane proceeded to make a shallow right turn as required. An unexpected jolt shook the plane. Engine number 2 disintegrated from the inside out literally, causing part of it to separate.The remaining disk was immediately thrown out of balance and was ejected toward the right horizontal stabilizer, scattering titanium shrapnel as it came apart.
Several pieces impacted the fuselage. The aircraft's three hydraulic systems were compromised, one in the left/right stabilizers and another which connected just below where the fan disk failed.
Practically we were mortally wounded, and for the next 44 minutes we would hold to ourselves in prayers. Even before September 11th, 2011 people started to write "I love you" on books, or loose pages from agendas and notebooks. This time it was not the exception! We did it in Pompeii, and in those Altamira caves!
The Human Side
I walked on purpose to the back lavatory and walked past these palpable lives. I felt a deep pain when I saw these parents with little kids on their laps. Some were sleeping, and others were finishing their meal. Suddenly a young woman caught my eye. It was Heather O`Mara, a lawyer from New Jersey. She smiled back. I asked the Lord, why did they have to depart? Who was bound to survive? I saw this guy from seat 20-H moving to another seat. I felt Mister death taking names and... I wanted to kick his a##! but he told me me softly like the joker, "the list is legal Joseph! YOU want to add your name?"
I just said, "forget ya!" The plane was already fighting against time and uncertainty. I recognized people that survived and painfully saw the ones that never made it.
All of a sudden I felt swallowed up into that Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. After a little while we were back on that plane. This gigantic shark was wounded and wanted to get back at us with a vengeance.
We Need all the Help...!!
Dennis E. Fitch, an off-duty United Airlines DC-10 flight instructor, was seated in the first class section. We saw him talking to a flight attendant and offered his help. He eventually was invited to join the crew. Update: Mr. Fitch died on May 14, 2012.
The situation at 3:22 p.m.
"This is... I've never seen this before. All three Hydraulic Systems are gone," said Fitch. "Now the plane is making us go to the right all the time," responds First Officer William Records. "Chicago, this is an emergency...repeat, mayday Chicago, we need the closest airport... over... we are losing altitude at 1400 feet /minute -- Tower control Roger?"
We felt as though this trip was for real...
I fastened my seat-belt and I felt the fuselage around and above me. Clearly the overhead luggage wanted to give up on us. The plane was being crushed by invisible forces. I just wanted to vomit! Sudden and intermittent sinking sensations made it worse. I grabbed that paper bag and puked...!
Why Sioux City?
Imagine being yourself inside a car going down the hill with no brakes. Just telling your copilot to open his door to compensate for proper direction course. From the time the United 232 got crippled after 3:16 p.m. there was no other choice. "The plane was going down no matter what!"
The crew managed to control altitude by utilizing each engine left independently so they could control steering adjustments. What we felt was the dive of our lives. In those times the cabin could be left opened and we could hear them talk technicalities.
"Fitch, try to work the throttles instead," suggested Captain Haynes. With one throttle in each hand, Fitch was able to mitigate the phugoid cycle. It was back to Wilbur and Orville Wright times, literally!!
Human strength took over... lack of pressure. But there were no rudders anymore...!
Sioux City...We've got a problem!
"Dear Passengers, I'm going to be honest with you: We are doing our darnedest to land this mammoth, but we expect one of the worse experiences...The only way to bring down this thing is keep going in circles . We want you to start praying..."
How could he say all that? I wanted to get out of this nightmare. But braced myself for impact like any of the passengers. Mothers were holding their babies and some wanted to mumble some words of impotence. I was sweating cold. The smell of burn plastic and oil invaded the passengers area.
Final conversation between Tower control ATC and crew:
Fitch: I'll tell you what, we'll have a beer when this is all done!
"Haynes: Well I don't drink, but I'll sure as hell have one!"
A few minutes later:
Sioux City Approach: United Two Thirty-Two Heavy, the wind's currently three six zero at one one; three sixty at eleven. You're cleared to land on any runway.
Captain Haynes: Roger!! (laughing) You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?
The Worst Tragedy Started...
We were descending too fast and too quick. Instead of landing at 150 miles per hour, we were lining up on runway 22, at 280-300 miles per hour. That was way too much. At the last second a mom instinctively, put her baby on the floor... "I just held my head against this front seat. This was it!!"
Of the 296 people aboard, 111 were killed in the crash, while 185 survived. Captain Haynes later told of three contributing factors regarding the time of day that allowed for a better chance of survival:
- The accident occurred during daylight hours
- The accident occurred when the Iowa Air National Guard was on duty at Sioux Gateway Airport.
- It was a moment when shift turn ocurred at Sioux City Hospitals. All stayed put!
Witnessing it all...
The DC-10 impacted on the right wing. An unexpected phugoid cycle pulled the right wing down. A ball of fired started right behind me. I felt as though I was on that roller coaster of a lifetime. So... I knew I was going to die. That was it!
I smelled the blood coming out of my nose. Corn fields brushed off my windows and I ended up upside down in a split of a second. I couldn't breath... I couldn't. At the last second I started to breath. My ribs were crushed and I saw a light behind me. A piece of sharp metal wanted to dart into my left eye... but didn't! My head was bleeding profusely...
I was lucky enough! My structural framing side separated from the middle section and... I saw an horrifying view behind me: Toxic fumes involving miserably human beings. I just cried. I managed to get myself off, and ran for safety behind the fields. I wasn't chosen to die. But I just cried for that humanity! When I turned around I saw this scene of hope: Thank you Lord!
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