30 Years Since Flight 232 Crash-Landed In Sioux City

Jul 19, 2019

Thirty years ago today, a United Airlines plane crashed-landed in Sioux City and killed 112 people; 184 survived.

Flight 232 was headed from Denver to Chicago on July 19th, 1989 when it had a hydraulic failure. The DC-10 plane's No. 2 engine's fandisk broke apart, severing all three hydraulic line systems on the aircraft. Captain Al Haynes radioed in to an air traffic controller.

“Okay, so you know, we have almost no controllability. Very little elevator and almost no ailerons, we’re controlling the turns by power,” Haynes said. “We can only turn right. We can’t turn left.”

“United 232 heavy understand, sir. You can only make right turns?” an air traffic controller responded.

The plane crashed while trying to land at Sioux Gateway Airport, tumbled down the runway on fire and ended up in a cornfield.

Thirty years later, passengers, the flight crew, and families of the deceased are still healing, said Larry Finley, the executive director for the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation in Sioux City, which has an exhibit dedicated to the crash. Memories are still vivid, he said.

People continue to honor the lives lost and praise the quick response of disaster services in the area. Finley said many small town rescue units from outside of the Sioux City metro area came quickly to the scene and joined in helping the local services.

“They heard about the problems with the aircraft,” Finley said, “well it started 80 miles northeast of here and we had rescue units that followed that airplane all the way back to Sioux City.”

With about 35 minutes advanced notice that the plane was approaching Sioux City, over 30 fire rescue units were on scene, Finley said, a “testimonial to volunteerism.” Another 30 rescue units arrived later, following the aircraft from the east.

Finley said there is a heightened awareness today about aircraft equipment that Flight 232 sparked. But some are still waiting for changes, like requiring child safety seats on planes. When the plane was coming down in 1989, the flight crew advised parents to wrap their babies in blankets and hold them in their arms or on the floor of the plane, he said.

“We’ve got a number of children lost in the crash because of that,” Finley said. “We still do not have federal standards today similar to what we have for if you put a child in your car, they have to be in a safety seat up to a certain age.”

The Mid America Museum is holding an open house from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at 2600 Expedition Court to remember Flight 232. Staff plan to Skype and Facebook Live with a member of the crew, Susan White.

The flight attendant shirt White wore on the day of the crash is part of the museum's Flight 232 exhibit. The exhibit also features Captain Haynes’ seat from the crash and a few slightly burned flight tickets, among other memorabilia.