Remembering Al Haynes is a good thing. He was the Sully Sullenberger of his day. The heroic air captain who “saved” the day for his crew and passengers. This is his story.
It started as a routine flight from Denver Stapleton to Chicago O’Hare. United Flight 232 was a DC-10 captained by Al Haynes, who umpired Little League as a hobby. The First Officer (FO) William Records and Flight Engineer (FE) Dudley Dvorak rounded out the crew.
The DC-10, first manufactured in 1970 by McDonnell Douglas, was part of the widely popular wide body aircraft produced in the era (the Boeing 747 and Lockheed L-1011 are others)
On July 19, 1989, while over central Iowa, Engine Number 2, located in the tail of the airplane exploded sending shrap metal across the farmland below and severing the hydraulic lines. The hydraulic system was quickly depleted.
The flight control system for pitch, bank and yaw was disabled. Think of a large car without power steering and multiple that by 100 and you get the idea of how difficult it is to turn a jumbo jet with no hydraulics. The rudder, for example, became a large barn door with a 300 mile and hour wind blowing around it. Two men at the controls are little help.
Al Haynes had been flying for 33 years and amassed nearly 30,000 hours of flying. However, it did not take all that experience for Haynes to realize the depth of the trouble. An off duty experienced instructor pilot, Dennis “Denny” Fitch, was sitting in the passenger section. Fitch sent a note offering help through the flight attendant. Haynes sent the flight attendant back to invite Fitch up. They were going to need all the help they could get.
Working as a team they reverted to an old aviation technique to maneuver the aircraft: differential thrust. By maneuvering the power up on the right-wing engine and back on the left wing, they could turn the aircraft left and vice-versa.
The crew used other team techniques that are considered “textbook”. This included signals from Haynes to the crew that he was opened to suggestions as well as the use of humor. The teamwork was so effective that myself and three colleagues wrote a case study about it published in the Management Communication Quarterly.
One of the important questions was, where to land? The crew decided that sooner was better than later. They settled on Sioux City Iowa. The air traffic controllers were exceptional accommodating as the crippled aircraft lumbered in. Haynes decided to execute the approach at a much higher speed than normal (240 vs. 140 knots) due to the inability to lower the flaps and slow the aircraft.
Unfortunately, the right wing dipped at the last moment causing the right-wing tip to drag and the aircraft to tumble. A fire ball erupted. Miraculously 185 of the 296 souls on board passengers survived the landing, including all four of the crew.
That was 30 years ago. Yesterday, Al Haynes passed into eternity at age 89 in Seattle WA. His fame eclipsed by Sully Sullenberger’s exploits. However, his memory should not be. Well done, Al Haynes.
A more complete story can be found in Session 5 of Doctor Aviation. For a compelling story from a passenger on the flight, I highly recommend Jerry Schemmel & Kevin Simpson’s account, entitled Chosen to Live: The Inspiring Story of a Flight 232 Survivor