United 232 hero pilot Al Haynes dies at age 87

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SEATTLE, Wash. (KELO) — Retired Captain Al Haynes, the hero pilot of United Airlines Flight 232, died Sunday, according to a friend.

Haynes, who landed the Denver to Chicago flight in Sioux City, Iowa, is credited with saving the lives of 184 people.

The crash happened 30 years ago. The United Airlines DC-10 was flying 35,000 feet over the Great Plains and facing disaster.

A display for United 232 in Sioux City, Iowa

A cascade of problems ended up causing the flight crew on United 232 to lose control of the airplane.

“It was apparent to us, that we had lost all of our hydraulic fluid and when I asked (second officer) Dudley (Dvorak) for the procedure for that, he said, ‘there isn’t one,'” Haynes recalled in a news conference shortly after the crash.

The now defunct runway at Sioux Gateway Airport where United 232 crashed.

After the crash, the NTSB simulated the events Haynes faced with other pilots. Not one could create a safe landing.

“There is no hero. There’s just a group of four people who did their job and it was an unusual circumstance, but we put our best resources and knowledge together and did what we thought was best,” Haynes said.

Captain Al Haynes’ seat from United 232 on display in Sioux City, Iowa.

Woodbury County, Iowa, emergency services director Gary Brown called Haynes a friend. He said Haynes was not a fan of the label “hero.”

“Not only was he a humble individual, he was a heck of a pilot,” Brown said.

Brown said he last spoke to Haynes a few months ago when he was moved into assisted living. The two first met as Haynes was leaving the hospital after the crash.

They would go on to speak together at conferences across the country.

Haynes speaks in 2012.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Russell)

“He spoke really thousands of times to hundreds of thousands of people if not over 1 million people,” Brown said. “That was his mission to take the lessons learned and try to use them to motivate business industries, communities, public safety, anybody that would listen to prepare, to be prepared to work together as a team.”

Haynes laid the groundwork for that just days after the crash at a news conference.

“We must not forget that 111 perished in this accident, and to their families and to their friends, I would like to say that this crew and in fact the entire industry is dedicated to finding the cause of this accident so maybe we can never have it happen again,” Haynes said.

Brown said he had the opportunity to go to his last speaking event in Des Moines a few years ago.

“Al’s mission in the last 30 years was to take the lessons learned from this tragedy and try to make something good come out of 112 people’s deaths and 184 people being changed forever,” Brown said.

Haynes speaks at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 27, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa Sheffield)

A lifelong pilot, Haynes began his career in the military, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He attended Texas A&M College before serving as a marine aviator.

He then went on to fly for United Airlines for 35 years.

He retired in 1991 after 27,000 hours of flight time.

Brown was on his retirement flight from Denver to Seattle. The surviving crew members of United 232 joined Haynes on the flight in the cockpit and as flight attendants.

“They actually had air traffic control piped in over the speakers, as we flew across the country, air traffic control towers across the country and other airlines wished him a happy retirement,” Brown said.

Haynes is being remembered across the country.

“The entire United family was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Captain Al Haynes. We thank him for his service throughout his career at United and for his exceptional efforts aboard Flight UA232 on July 19, 1989. His legacy will endure. We send our condolences to his family and friends,” United Airlines said in a statement.

The United Pilots group also said they are “proud of the safety/Crew Resource Management legacy he left behind.”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association honored Hayes for his professionalism, training, and superior airmanship.

“NATCA looks to examples of exceptionalism in aviation, like Capt. Haynes lived and taught, to provide a standard for us to strive toward. We are deeply saddened by his passing, but profoundly grateful for his career of service to aviation safety,” NATCA president Paul Rinaldi said. “Our Union believes that every day is a training day, and we will continue to remember how Capt. Haynes and others made a big difference in the survival rate during that flight 30 years ago.”

Capt. Hayes speaks at NATCA’s Communicating For Safety (CFS) conference in 2016. (Courtesy: NATCA)

The group said Hayes gave nearly 2,000 presentations.

Haynes was very active in Little League in the Seattle area, according to Brown. He called him the greatest ambassador to Siouxland.

“We lost a friend. We lost a great human being; we lost an incredible ambassador for our community,” Brown said.

Funeral services have not been announced.