Gone West: Capt. Al Haynes

From NAFI's Chair

Gone West: Capt. Al Haynes

Just over 30 years ago, United Flight 232, a DC-10 flying from Denver's now closed Stapleton Airport to Chicago O'Hare suffered the catastrophic failure of its tail-mounted engine. The debris from the engine failure breached all three of the hydraulic systems, rendering the flight controls inoperative. This was considered to be such an unlikely occurrence that no procedure had had ever been established to deal with such an emergency.

In a remarkable feat of airmanship, the crew was able to fly what should have been an uncontrollable airplane to a crash landing at Sioux City Gateway Airport, where 185 of the 296 crew and passengers survived the impact.

The leader of that flight crew, Capt. Al Haynes, passed away this week at the age of 89. For years, after he retired from United, he had been a motivational speaker, using this accident to not only talk about aviation safety, but also the need for using all available resources in managing emergencies and other critical events.

Several years ago, I had the honor and privilege of both discussing this with him as well as introducing him when he gave his presentation to an audience on behalf of NAFI. In a dinner conversation with former NAFI Chairman Ken Hoffman and me, and in his presentation, Haynes gave credit to everyone involved in the accident for making it survivable:

  • To his crew, including a dead-heading check airman who came to the cockpit to assist in flying the aircraft.
  • To the flight attendants for preparing the cabin and passengers.
  • To air traffic control, particularly the tower controller at Sioux City for coordinating the emergency response on the ground.To the emergency responders, ranging from the South Dakota National Guard that had been on an exercise at the airport, local fire and police, and the hospitals in the area that kept staff on hand at shift change when informed of the impending crash.
  • And to the passengers themselves, who in a moment of extreme fear, followed the cabin attendants' instructions.

Never once did he point to himself as being the leader of this amazing team that reacted so well to the emergency.

Capt. Haynes is probably one of the finest and most humble men I've ever met. His actions in leading the team in saving 185 lives that day stands as an example to all of us, not only as pilots and instructors, but in our non-aviation lives as well. You can read news reports about his death and legacy  here.

Bob Meder,
NAFI Board Chair
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