Local Hero Capt. Al Haynes & His Crash Landing 20 Years Ago

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By Mark Neuman

There is a certain endearing modesty about Al Haynes, who worked for United Airlines for 35 years, and has lived in the same house near Sea-Tac airport since 1963.

One would never know from the sound or words of this neighborly and unselfish man, that he is one of the heroes, along with his crew, in a horrific plane crash that occurred 20 years ago this Sunday, on July 20, 1989:

We recently spoke with Captain Haynes as he was returning home from a luncheon and heading out to volunteer as a public address announcer at a Little League baseball tournament, something, including umpiring, he has loved doing for years.

On July 19, 1989, United Airlines flight 232, with almost 300 people on board, took off from Denver, heading to Chicago. Captain Haynes, with over 30,000 hours of flight experience, was at the controls.

Things were quite normal. The weather was fine. Nothing seemed wrong with the Douglas DC-10.

Suddenly, a foot-long, pie-shaped piece of fanblade flew off, cutting and destroying all three independent hydraulic systems.

Captain Haynes and his flight crew had only the thrust levers for the two remaining engines to work with, forcing them to make only right turns. As much fuel as possible was dumped and the crew made an emergency landing at Sioux City, Iowa.

Stunningly, 185 people on board survived the cartwheeling, fiery crash landing.

And since then, Haynes’ expertise and experience in handling in-flight emergencies, and the story of United Flight 232, have been constantly sought, with emphasis on addressing professionals in the aviation industry.

“I’ve done about ten talks this year with about four more lined up. I really have cut back.”

His speaking engagements have included instructing new astronauts at the Space Center in Houston

We asked Captain Haynes to comment on the frequently held belief by some over the years that the location of a passenger’s seat on a flight might influence that person’s chance of surviving an emergency landing.

“We had fatalities in every section of the aircraft and we had survivors in every section of the aircraft,” he replied. “It can be a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Al Haynes first moved to Seattle in 1957.

“The airport here was very, very small. It only had about ten gates. Seattle was very friendly and very comfortable. My wife was from Southern California and she fell in love with Seattle, and there was no question we were staying right here.”

Many people thought of Al Haynes this past January when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after that aircraft suddenly became disabled just after taking off from from New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

“He did a superb job,” Haynes said of Sullenberger. “And he did it in a very short period of time. He did an outstanding job of making those quick decisions and reacting as fast as he did. The decision was forced upon him, but to make that decision is still tough.”

While the two had never met before, Haynes and Sullenberger have spoken on the phone with each other twice since the Hudson River landing.

We asked Captain Haynes about his flight crew from that fateful day twenty years ago. The crew included First Officer William Records, Flight Engineer Dudley Dvorak, and Dennis Fitch, a United training pilot who happened to be on board.

“Everybody’s in good shape,” Haynes said. “We hope to have a crew reunion sometime this summer.

“There is a bond there, and we try to keep in contact.”

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