Spencer Bailey, alive and well and ... a journalist, of course

Spencer Bailey, alive and well and ... a journalist, of course

Flight 232 survivor and statue icon as 3-year-old graduates from Dickinson College


SIOUX CITY -- That little boy from Colorado featured in the big statue down by the river isn't so little any more. He is, in fact, a recent college graduate, an aspiring journalist who plans to work for a major publisher in New York City after spending a couple of months bouncing around Europe and elsewhere with his twin brother Trent.

Spencer Bailey was 3 years old on July 19, 1989 when United Airlines Flight 232, the plane on which he was traveling with his mother and older brother Brandon, crash landed at Sioux Gateway Airport. Their mother, Frances, 35, was among the 112 people killed in the crash. Brandon, then 6, was seriously injured, but he recovered. Spencer was also among the 184 survivors.

Trent and their father Brownell were not on the plane.

Spencer became a symbol of the heroic rescue efforts that day when a photograph of him being carried from Sioux Gateway Airport by Lt. Col. Dennis Nielsen of the 185th Fighter Wing, Iowa Air National Guard, was taken by Journal photographer Gary Anderson and published in newspapers and magazines around the world. Five years after the crash, the photo was the basis for a memorial statue erected at the Spirit of Siouxland Memorial in Chris Larsen Park along the Sioux City waterfront. And just last year a plaque added at the statue site confirmed that Spencer is indeed a real boy.

Or was. Now he's a man.

No memories of Flight 232

A recent graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., Spencer Bailey, 22, has no memories of the crash. And it isn't something he talks about much, what with the negative aspects surrounding the incident, the death of his mother and so many other people, he said.

But he also sees it as a "positive learning experience" from which he has grown.

"I think that's also spawned my interest in writing and discovering the experiences of others through writing their stories, particularly journalism," he said. "And also looking at my own life through poetry and fiction, that's been a huge interest to me."

His particular interest these days is the editorial side of journalism.

"I'll start and see where that will take me," he said. "I'm looking in a couple of years to pursuing an MFA in either creative writing or creative nonfiction. But that's a few years down the line."

He graduated May 18 with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor in creative writing. And he'll be moving to New York City in August to pursue either an editorial or writer position at a magazine. His European commitment has kept him from making any commitments, but Bailey already has connections in the New York publishing world.

Last year, he did a summer internship in London for Emap, an English magazine publisher that is sort of equivalent to Hearst and Conde Nast in America. The summer before that, he interned at Harper Collins in NYC, Prior to that, he interned for Queen Literary Agency, also in the Big Apple, and that proved to be the most interesting of the three summers, with a small office offering him the best work opportunities and a close relationship with a good boss.

But he still would prefer working at one of the bigger magazines, one dealing with pop culture or entertainment issues, like Esquire or Vanity Fair. That would probably mean starting as an editorial assistant, then moving into writing of some kind.

Fraternity president

Bailey attended a boarding/high school in Connecticut where his interest in writing was sparked. His college counselor recommended Dickinson College because of its strong English program and a new creative writing program. But he found himself drawn into other campus activities. As a junior, he served as president of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epison. He was also president of the college's Intrafraternity Council. He also worked for the college magazine and the Office of College Relations.

In what spare time he had, Bailey was a drummer, spending the summer of 2004 playing in a rock 'n' roll band in New York City. He still plays the drums occasionally, studying funk and jazz styles, but his days of playing in the band are behind him.

This summer anyway, you'll find him maybe in Europe or Istanbul, later in Southeast Asia, traveling with his brother Trent, who is a photography major at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Together, they plan to put out a blog from foreign Internet cafes about their experiences as American twins traveling abroad. Spencer will provide the text, Trent the pictures.

And next year, on the 20th anniversary of the plane crash, he plans to make a return visit to Sioux City. Bailey missed the 15th anniversary because of his rock band commitment. He has seen the statue but not since the plaque was added with the names of the photographer, sculptor Dale Lamphere and the two subjects.

"It's strange being 22 years old and seeing yourself in a metal statue," he said. "It's something so permanent. And I'm sure oftentimes people go and look at it and they think that I probably passed away. I don't think they probably realize that I'm still alive."

Having something "so permanent in the world at such a young age" is definitely a strange experience, he said. But because of he whole cleanup and rescue effort after the crash by the people of the Sioux City area, he considers it an honor,

"Definitely," he said. "But at the same time, it's a very strange feeling, one that I even have trouble describing now."


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