How 1 In A Billion Chance Brought Down A Whole Airplane


When the chips are down, how do you respond? All of us like to think that we can rise to
emergency challenges, but hope to never have a moment where the extreme end of our ability
is tested. Unfortunately during what should have been
a routine flight, the crew of United Airlines Flight 232 was suddenly faced with unimaginable
disaster, a scenario considered so improbable there was no formal procedure for addressing
it. This is the tragic, yet miraculous tale of
the crash of UA Flight 232 and how the flight crew rose to the challenge and attempted to
do their very best under the circumstances. On Wednesday, July 19, 1989, UA Flight 232
took off at 2:09 pm central time (CDT) from Stapleton International Airport in Denver,
Colorado. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 jet airliner was
bound for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago with continuing service to Philadelphia
International Airport. The liftoff was picture perfect, the sky a
bright, cloudless blue; soon the plane was cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11,277
m) with the autopilot engaged. In the cockpit was veteran pilot Captain Al
Haynes with two experienced co-pilots; First Officer William Records and Second Officer
Dudley Dvorak. It was a full flight with 296 souls aboard. In addition to the 3 pilots, there were 8
flight attendants and 285 passengers. Due to a Children’s Day promotion where children
could fly for $.01 with purchase of a regular adult ticket, there was an unusually high
number of children on the flight, 52 to be exact. Four of these children were ‘lap children’
or children under 2 years old and per American flight regulations could be held in the parent’s
arms with no seats of their own for the duration of the flight. The first half of the 2 hour flight was uneventful. Then at 3:16 pm while the plane was making
a right turn over Iowa, there was a loud bang in the rear. An explosion jolted the plane, causing it
to shudder violently. Immediately several freaked out passengers
wondered if a bomb had gone off. On the flight deck, the pilots were bombarded
with warning alarms and flashing lights. The autopilot disengaged and Officer Records
took control of his steering column. The flight instruments indicated that engine
# 2 on the tail had malfunctioned, so Capt Haynes and Officer Dorvak rapidly shut it
down which stopped the plane’s shaking. Luckily DC-10 are equipped with 3 engines,
engine # 1 is mounted in front of the left wing, engine # 2 is in tail and engine #3
is mounted in front of the right wing. The plane could still fly with only 2 engines
working. Capt Haynes hastily made a reassuring announcement
over the PA that engine # 2 had some problems and as a result they might be a few minutes
late to O’Hare. However, as this was happening, the plane
suddenly swerved hard to the right, began to roll over, the nose diving. Officer Records turned his steering column,
trying to straighten out the plane, but it wouldn’t respond to his commands. Capt Haynes also tried turning his steering
column, but the plane still wouldn’t respond. Officer Dvorak quickly realized that the gauges
registering fluids for all 3 hydraulic systems were displaying zeros. The plane had lost all hydraulic fluid, therefore
losing all conventional flight controls. The hydraulic systems on the plane control
vital functions such as steering, and manipulation of the flaps, ailerons, rudder and braking
systems. The DC-10’s 3 hydraulic systems are fully
independent of each other and are designed to be redundant in case of emergency, meaning
that the plane could fly with just 1 of the hydraulic systems working. For all 3 hydraulic systems to fail on a DC-10,
it’s a billion to one chance. In just seconds after the explosion the plane
was more or less simply sailing through the sky on an unmanageable trajectory much like
a thrown paper airplane. A single question dominated Capt Haynes’
thoughts–how do we keep this plane in the sky? Thankfully, the #1 and #3 engines on each
wing appeared to be working properly. To level out the tilted plane, Capt Haynes
decided to use the throttles to manipulate the remaining engines. He throttles back the power of the left engine
to idle and increases power to the maximum on the right engine. This causes the plane to yaw left and air
to flow slightly faster over the right wing, generating more lift and forcing the wing
down which levels out the plane. In the cabin, passengers were panicking. Chief flight attendant Jan Brown and the rest
of the flight staff have been attempting to keep things as calm as possible. Capt Haynes calls Brown to the deck and informs
her of the situation. Back in the cabin, she thought calling a meeting
with the flight attendants would scare passengers, so she surreptitiously alerted them one by
one as she passed by them in the aisle. As it just so happened, seated in first class
was Denny Fitch, a United Airlines pilot instructor. Despite crew reassurances, he knew there was
something very wrong. He let the flight attendants know his job
and stated that he’d be happy to help the flight crew. At 3:29 pm, about 15 minutes after the explosion
and the loss of the controls, Capt Fitch joins the flight crew in the cockpit. They explain the issue and have him go look
out a cabin window to check if the ailerons are moving when they attempt to steer them. They are not. Capt Haynes has Capt Fitch take over control
of the throttle for the 2 working engines. He maintains a white knuckled grip on the
throttle for the rest of the flight while Capt Haynes and officer Records continue to
manipulate the steering columns in the hopes they can control the plane. Meanwhile, Officer Dvorak has been communicating
with air traffic control, the UA maintenance base in San Francisco, McDonnell Douglas the
maker of the plane, basically anyone they could get ahold of. It’s considered virtually impossible that
all 3 hydraulic systems would fail on a DC-10 and there’s no emergency procedure to deal
with the crisis. Furthermore, no one has any real suggestions
on what to do. The pilots of UA flight 232 are on their own. Capt Haynes realizes the best course of action
is to make an emergency landing as soon as possible. They decide on the small regional airport
of Sioux City some 65 miles away. Capt Haynes informs senior flight attendant
Brown and makes an announcement over the PA, telling passengers to prepare for a crash
landing. In addition to the plane constantly skewing
right and trying to roll over, the plane’s doing what’s called in aviation a phugoid
cycle. Basically it’s acting like a ship going
over heavy waves; it pitches up and climbs, and then pitches down and descends, while
speeding up and slowing down as it goes “downhill” and “uphill”. With each iteration of the cycle, the aircraft
loses approximately 1,500 feet (460 m) of altitude. In the cabin Brown and the other flight attendants
go row by row, checking seat belts, making sure that all passengers know what to do. Per United Airline rules, the parents of the
lap children are told to place the babies on the floor and when bending in the brace
for impact position, hold them in place. In the cockpit, the four pilots worriedly
discuss whether to try to use the landing gear or land the plane on its belly. Landing gear is controlled by hydraulics. However on a DC-10 when the landing gear doors
are opened, gravity will make the landing gear fall out and lock into place. Also there is also a lever for activating
the landing gear which also unlocks the outboard ailerons. They hope that when the landing gear is in
place, some residual hydraulic fluid will flow back into the proper system and they’d
be able to steer the plane. On the other hand, the pilots have been managing
to keep the plane in the air through throttle usage. Trying to utilize the landing gear could cause
a whole new set of problems. At around 3:49, some 30 minutes after the
initial explosion, the pilots use the lever to open the landing gear doors. Luckily the landing gear drops, locks into
place and doesn’t cause other issues. The landing gear actually somewhat increases
the stability of the flight, although it doesn’t push any trapped hydraulic fluid to the controls. Meanwhile in Sioux City, the airport’s been
preparing for a crash landing with ambulances, firetrucks and volunteers. Fortuitously, two Sioux City hospitals, one
of them a regional burn center are in the midst of a shift change. This means more people are available to treat
survivors. For the last 20 minutes or so flight 232 has
been flying towards Sioux City airport in wide, awkward loops, trying to dump as much
fuel as they can to make the plane which weighed some 360,000 lbs (163,293 kg) including passengers
and luggage, lighter before attempting to land. The plan is to land on runway #31 which at
9,000 feet (2743 m) long, is the longest runway at the airport. But Flight 232 comes out of a turn lined up
with closed runway #22 which unfortunately is where all the emergency services vehicles
have been parked. Worried about keeping the plane in the air,
they decided not to make another approach and warned air traffic control that they would
land on the shorter 6,600 foot (2011 m) runway #22. Just minutes before the plane touches down,
emergency services scrambled to move their vehicles. Flight 232 would be landing at a high rate
of speed. With the loss of hydraulics the flaps couldn’t
be extended, which meant flight crew would be unable to control both the airspeed and
sink rate. Another huge problem is that hydraulics also
control the braking system for the plane. At the edge of runway #22 was a cornfield. They hoped that as the plane touched down,
it could roll into the cornfield and that would help slow it. On the final descent Flight 232 is going 220
knots (253 mph) and falling out of the sky at 1,850 feet (563m) per minute (approximately
407 km/h forward and 34 km/h downward speed). This is over twice the speed of a normal safe
landing. In the cockpit alarms sound for the ground
proximity warning system. The cabin is utterly silent as the flight
attendants shout for passengers to brace for landing. At 4:00 pm the right wing of the wobbling
plane struck the ground, spilling 10,000 pounds of kerosene and bursting into flame on impact. The clang of steel hitting the runway reverberated
through the cabin as the plane bounced and skidded forward. The plane broke into three main pieces as
it careened down the runaway and skidded into the cornfield. The cockpit went one way, the tail another. The main center of aircraft slid sideways,
rolled over onto its back, and came to a stop upside-down in the corn field. Passengers are tossed about, some still strapped
in their seats. Due to a ruptured fuel tank, a huge orange
fireball rolls through the cabin. Survivors help each other out of the burning
plane as first responders rush to the chaotic scene. It took rescuers almost 30 minutes to identify
the debris that was the remains of the cockpit. It had burrowed into the ground due to force. It took a forklift and cutting equipment to
free the 4 alive, but injured pilots. Capt Haynes was knocked out upon impact, he
had a severe concussion and received 90 stitches. The wreck of flight 232 burned for 2 hours. 34 ambulances and 9 helicopters transported
the injured. Of the 296 people onboard, 111 died, while
185 or 62.5% of the passengers survived. 125 passengers suffered only minor injuries
and 13 actually walked away unharmed. 11 children, including one lap child, died. 35 passengers survived the crash only to pass
away of smoke inhalation while trying to escape from the wreckage. Only a single crew member died, flight attendant
Rene Lebeau. The tragedy was the fifth-deadliest crash
involving the DC-10. A long and complex investigation by the National
Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] eventually revealed the cause of the tragedy. An infinitesimal flaw was created when the
titanium fan disk for the plane tail engine was manufactured, due to impurities contaminating
the metal melting process. Over 18 years of plane usage, stress on the
flaw in the fan disk caused it to form a crack. Slowly the crack grew larger and larger and
on Flight 232, at 3:16 pm the fan disk fractured causing engine 2# to explosively disintegrate. In a stroke of pure bad luck, shrapnel perforated
the lines to all 3 hydraulic systems which ran through the horizontal stabilizer in the
tail, causing them to leak all the hydraulic fluid. Though the plane had undergone regular maintenance,
the crack in the fan disk wasn’t noticed, although it had eventually grown big enough
to be seen with the naked eye. Despite the loss of life, flight 232 is held
up as a model of CRM or crew resource management and studied in flight school. The number of deaths could have been far greater. Both the cockpit and flight attendant crews
communicated well with one another and tried to keep cool under pressure. Though Capt Haynes was in charge, he actively
listened to his co-pilots. In addition to expertise, cooperation and
teamwork played a vital role in troubleshooting the unfolding problem and landing the plane. Once recuperated and cleared of any blame,
the four pilots returned to work for United Airlines. In May of 2012, Capt Denny Fitch lost his
battle with brain cancer. Capt Haynes flew for United Airlines for 35
years until his retirement in 1991. He also became a public speaker on aviation
safety. Capt Al Haynes passed away in August of 2019
at the age of 87. Haunted by guilt over the death of Evan Tsao,
the lap child killed during the crash, senior flight attendant Jan Brown began lobbying
Congress and the FAA to introduce child safety seats on board planes across the USA. Even after retiring in 1998, Jan Brown has
continued her campaign. Unfortunately, despite some industry support,
to this day, airlines in the United States are still not required to provide infants
under the age of two travelling as ‘lap children’ with any forms of restraint. As a result of the crash, the manufacturing
process for making titanium fan disks for planes was improved. Also, new aircraft designs have incorporated
hydraulic fuses to isolate a punctured section to prevent total loss of hydraulic fluid. Though many people called Capt Haynes a hero,
he didn’t consider himself to be one. He praised his co workers, saying that he
felt like they all just simply tried to do the best they could. Do you think people should be allowed to hold
children under 2 year of age in their arms on flights or should babies be required to
have a seat where their carrier can be strapped in? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
What Happened To Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

100 Replies to “How 1 In A Billion Chance Brought Down A Whole Airplane”

  1. imma fly for the first time next week and for some reason youtube keeps recommending me plane crash videos and now you guys who i subscribed to?! is this a sign?

  2. Interesting. Bahamas air has little seat belts that attach to your adult seat belts for lap children. I was horribly supprised when I rode on an American owned airline and asked for the baby seatbelt and the flight attendant looked at me like I was a lunatic.

  3. I appeared for an exam where you have 4 options out of which only 1 is correct. I didn't knew the answer of 5 questions in a row, so I guess option C for all the 5 questions in the row and to my fate, all the answers were all option A in a row.

    Guess who's getting that 1 in a billion chance.

  4. This happened at least 2 more times and the crews got them down safely (not in any way a criticism of this crew-I just think the other crews had more luck!)

  5. I´ve seen a lot of documentaries about this flight, and this plane, and although was one of the safeties airplanes in his time( more than the 747, for example), he earned a deadly reputation and came out of production, sad.

  6. Great video but 4 adverts splitting up a 13 minute video? C'mon guys. Everytime i get invested in it again it just loads another advert.

  7. I was actually thinking they would all survive and then I saw the animation of the plane in three pieces and it on fire. Sad and heroic story.

  8. I blame the maintenance crew for not repairing that titanium fan because they could have prevented the whole crash, instead they got lazy or careless and 100+ humans died.

  9. These pilots were heroes. If the crew was a bit less trained or if they made a small mistake, everyone would have died.

  10. This story hits close home. My grandmother and great grandma were on thus flight. Grandma survived but my great grandma didn't. Captain Haynes was a true American hero.

  11. I've watched all of these from the flight channel but it was pretty cool to see your version.. It actually helps visualize it way better

  12. If anyone is interested in a full documentary video on the crash I would watch seconds from disaster – crash landing at suo city ( I know it’s spelt wrong I just can’t be bothered in finding the correct spelling) it’s a fantastic documentary. They do a lot of different accidents too and they are very interesting. If Infographics show was too do this I’d be very happy to watch these and like and share the videos.

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