SIOUX CITY | Two teams working independently of each other, yet with the same goal, ensured that the story of United Airlines Flight 232 was not a tale of only tragedy, but rather one that included numerous happy endings.
One team was in the air, trying to gain control over a badly damaged airplane and land it safely.
The second team mobilized on the ground, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
Their efforts, though undertaken separately, together achieved the unimaginable: A DC-10 carrying 296 people crash-landed at Sioux Gateway Airport, and through the smoke and flames, 184 people survived. It still seems a miracle that no more than 112 people died.
July 19, 1989, was a day full of amazing feats pulled off by ordinary people: our friends, neighbors and many, many strangers from near and far who came to help. As the Journal commemorates the 25th anniversary of that day, we look at who some of those people were, what they did and how it's affected their lives.
A lot has been written and said about Flight 232's unexpected landing in Sioux City.
Still, it boils down to how two teams -- one large, one small -- successfully worked under pressure to save lives.
In the air, pilot Capt. Al Haynes and his two-man crew, plus an off-duty DC-10 flight instructor who happened to be a passenger, first determined the plane's capabilities after the rear engine exploded and cut the hydraulic lines that operated the flight controls. Then they had to figure out how to land.
Haynes, a United Airlines pilot for 33 years at that time, is often singled out as a hero, the cool, calm leader who got the plane on the ground.
He denies such labels.
"The praise is for me, but it's us. It's the crew. It was a combined effort by everybody," Haynes said.
On the ground, emergency responders began to muster as the flight crew worked to control the plane.
Gary Brown had been the Woodbury County Disaster and Emergency Services director for two years when he was alerted that a plane in trouble was heading for Sioux City. That type of call was common, Brown said, so few expected a mass trauma event.
Still, they followed the response plans for such a possibility. Emergency responders were deployed. Then they waited.
In the air, Haynes and the crew worked the throttles on the engines to guide the plane toward Sioux City. Haynes said he is still awed by how everyone, from the crew in the cockpit to the flight attendants who kept the passengers calm, executed their duties.
"Everybody worked together to make it come out as well as it could," he said.
As information about the plane's condition and potential for large-scale disaster was relayed to responders, Brown said, requests for aid went out to the area. The response was immediate. Ambulances from communities small and large raced toward Sioux City. Hospitals began calling in extra shifts.
"I think it's part of the legacy is that Siouxland responded that day," Brown said.
That response has left a lasting impression.
Haynes was knocked unconscious in the crash and came to while lying inside the wreckage. For much of the day, he drifted into and out of consciousness.
He didn't learn how many people had chipped in until a few weeks later, when Sioux City doctors sent him a synopsis of the response, including how far ambulance crews, medical personnel, blood donors and other volunteers traveled to help.
"Sioux City did a lot for everybody that day," Haynes said.
Work done in the air and on the ground that day has become part of standard emergency response procedures.
"It changed everything. It's changed cockpit procedures. It's changed emergency response on the ground," Haynes said.
Emergency plans worldwide have been modeled, to some degree, on Woodbury County's actions. Brown said he still gets calls seeking advice from other states and countries developing mass fatality response plans.
"There has not been a major plane crash in the U.S. in which I haven't gotten a phone call to ask how we responded," Brown said.
That result is one of the happiest endings to the story of that day, Brown said. It illustrated the need for improved communications systems and a centralized emergency operations center, both of which have come to fruition in Woodbury County. The area is now better equipped to respond to the next disaster.
That, Brown said, is the legacy of Flight 232.
"The untold story is the good that came out of it," he said.