Pilot praised for crash-landing crippled plane in 1989 dies at 87

Data pix.

The man who crash-landed a crippled airliner bound for Chicago in 1989 -- likely saving the lives of over 100 people on board -- has died.

On July 19, 1989, Captain Al Haynes was at the controls when a United DC-10 travelling from Denver to Chicago suffered a catastrophic failure of its flight control systems, and was forced to make an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa.

Who could forget the images of what came next: a United jetliner dipping below the trees and behind a building, only to emerge as a fireball skidding across a runway.

“For one of our flight attendants and 110 of our passengers, there was no luck at all because they didn’t survive,” Haynes said later.

In the decades that followed the crash, Captain Haynes never forgot those who died. But the miracle was that anyone survived, let alone 184 passengers and crew members.

“When the airplane first blew it started to roll and turn to the right, and it was going to go over on its back and we stopped it by closing one throttle. We didn’t know to do that, no one trained to do it, we just did it,” Haynes said.

The failure of an engine fan is what doomed the plane, as shrapnel from the failed fan shredded the hydraulic lines that control almost every aspect of flight.

“By steering the aircraft with two throttles, that was the way we had to fly the airplane,” Haynes said later.

Captain Haynes did not shy away from the darkest day of his flying career. Instead, he became a safety advocate, travelling the world and preaching the gospel of preparation.

“The five things I talk about are luck, communications, preparation and execution,” Haynes said.

In recent years, Haynes scaled back his public speaking for another passion: handling the PA for Little League games and high school football near his home in Seattle.

He remained a “team player,” both in the cockpit and on the ground.

“This is not me doing it. It was a team effort, so I can’t take credit for anything but what the team did, and I always do that,” Haynes said.

A survivor of the flight, Tom Eilers said he owes a great deal to Captain Haynes.

"Those of us walked away that day owe a great debt to the man who not only preserved our lives, but set an example of selfless service," Eilers said.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.