Subscribe for 33¢ / day

SIOUX CITY | Jerry Schemmel considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Not solely because he was one of the 184 who survived the crash of United Airlines Flight 232, but also because he's been able to use that experience to turn his life around and do what he can to help others.

"The crash completely reshaped me. I'm a different person because of it," said Schemmel, 54, who lives in Littleton, Colo., and has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Colorado Rockies baseball team for the past five years. He had been the radio voice of the Denver Nuggets basketball team for 18 years before that.

Fellow Flight 232 survivor and Olympic equestrian Michael Matz says he’s tried to keep the crash in Sioux City 25 years ago from negatively affecting the rest of his life. He was lauded as a hero for leading brothers Travis and Jody Roth, then 9 and 14, and sister Melissa Radcliffe, then 12, out of the plane. He went back into the plane and pulled an 11-month-old girl from a luggage compartment.

In the years since, Matz has won an Olympic silver medal in show jumping and trained the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro.

“To be quite honest, I just try not to think about it,” Matz said by telephone from Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky. “Obviously, when something reminds me about it I think about it, but I just try to go on with it.”

On July 19, 1989, Schemmel was the ego-driven, career-oriented deputy commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association. Seated in row 23 on the DC-10 when it hit the ground at Sioux Gateway Airport, Schemmel was able to walk out of the wreckage with other survivors. His friend and boss, Jay Ramsdell, was one of the 112 passengers killed.

A couple of weeks later, guilt, anger and depression set in, taking a toll on his family and marriage.

"For a year it was really bad," he said.

Schemmel said he turned his life over to God at that point, and it changed his life. His marriage was saved, and he began a new outlook on life.

"I realized that this thing was never going away, so let's take it head-on," he said.

His book about surviving the crash, "Chosen to Live," was published in 1995. He began speaking about that same time. He tells his audiences about the crash and gives them firsthand lessons on how to overcome tragedy. He's found that interaction with his audiences to be a rewarding experience.

"I think God had me survive for a number of reasons, and one was to help with the healing process," he said.

Schemmel said he knows other Flight 232 survivors who haven't been so fortunate. Some have divorced. The crash ruined dreams and careers. Others haven't been able to set foot on an airplane since. There hasn't been a day that he hasn't thought of the crash, Schemmel said, and he still has neck and upper-back pain as a result. He's thankful that he's had the chance to make a difference.

"I realize every day is a gift. We need to appreciate each day when we can. I know it sounds corny," he said.

After years in the horse business, Matz said he believes the key to survival is looking forward: Once a race is finished, no amount of second guessing or dwelling can change the outcome.

His ability to rebound from tragedy was tested again in 2006 when Barbaro, who glided to an impressive Kentucky Derby win for Matz at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May, severely broke his right hind leg during the first few hundred yards of the Preakness Stakes two weeks later in Baltimore.

The bay colt underwent surgery and received months of follow-up treatment but was euthanized the following January.

Unaffected while talking about the plane crash, Matz choked up once when recalling Barbaro's struggle to survive. But, as with Flight 232, he refuses to let Barbaro’s death keep him from making the most of life.

He still trains racehorses. In 2012, Matz trainee Union Rags won the third jewel of racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.

“It was something that happened and I say thank God I survived, but it was something I wasn’t going to dwell and say I’m gonna mope around or be in a shell," he said. "I’ve got to live the rest of my life. The same thing with Barbaro. It was sad that it happened, but what can we do now?"

The crash has been a big part of Schemmel's life, and he'll continue to talk about it. He agrees it's time to move on.

"The crash is a book. After 25 years, I'm done with the book and ready to do something else. It was a chapter that I can close," he said.


Court reporter

Load comments