Alfred Haynes, Pilot Who Saved Scores in Crash Landing, Dies at 87

The New York Times Incident 1 month ago

Alfred Haynes, the pilot who led a United Airlines crew through an extraordinary piece of improved emergency flying that guided a crippled jet to a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, saving more than 180 of the 296 people on board, died on Aug. 25 in Tacoma, Wash. He was 87.

His son Dan posted news of his death on Facebook.

Mr. Haynes was captain of United Flight 232, which was on its way to Chicago from Denver on July 19, 1989, when, a little more than an hour into the flight, one of its three engines, the one mounted in the plane’s tail, exploded. What happened next is part of aviation lore, an example of calm and quick thinking under the most extreme pressure.

“Most people know Chesley Sullenberger,” said Spencer Bailey, a Flight 232 survivor, referring to the pilot who successfully landed a US Airways jet on the Hudson River in 2009, “but the feat Captain Haynes pulled off 30 years ago was truly a miracle, too.”

Mr. Haynes was piloting a DC-10, which normally would have been flyable with only its two wing-mounted engines running. But Mr. Haynes, his first officer, William R. Records, and his second officer, Dudley J. Dvorak, quickly realized that they had almost no control over the aircraft. Debris from the engine explosion had severed the hydraulic lines that enable the crewmen to steer and to control the aircraft’s speed. And they had an immediate problem: The plane was in danger of turning upside down.

“When the engine failed, the airplane started to turn to the right and started to roll,” Mr. Haynes told CNN in 2013, in an interview conducted in conjunction with the release of the fictional film “Flight.” In that movie, Denzel Washington, playing an airline pilot, flies a distressed jet upside-down, but Mr. Haynes said that what worked in a blockbuster film wouldn’t have worked for him.

“If we had gotten upside down,” he said, “the party was over.”

But he and the crewmen realized they could level the aircraft by decreasing power to the left engine. A flight attendant remembered that the plane’s passengers included Dennis Fitch, a DC-10 instructor at a United training center. When she told him the plane had lost all its hydraulics, his reply was, “That’s impossible.”

He joined the crew in the cockpit, and for the next 44 minutes the four men nursed the plane toward Sioux City and the nearest airport, varying the speed of the two functioning engines to steer in a primitive fashion, able to turn only to the right, and fighting an up-and-down motion described in news accounts as “porpoising.”

“Nothing in United’s training would have prepared the pilot for something like this,” John P. Ferg, a former director of flight operations for the airline, told The New York Times at the time. “By all laws of airmanship, he shouldn’t have gotten that close to the runway.”

Without the standard tools for slowing and steering the plane, Mr. Haynes neared Runway 22 of Sioux Gateway Airport going far too fast and descending at a significantly steeper angle than for a normal landing. As the plane attempted to touch down, the right wing clipped the ground and the craft broke apart amid smoke and flame.

Investigators later determined that the plane’s troubles began when a cracked fan disc disintegrated. The impact of the crash caused the cockpit “to break off like a pencil tip,” as Mr. Fitch later told Popular Mechanics. He and the three crewmen all survived.

Mr. Haynes, in later years, would often say his thoughts were with those who did not survive — 111 who died that day, and another who died a month later.

“It was very hard to get past the guilt of surviving,” he told New York magazine in 2009. “My job had been to get people from point A to point B safely, and I didn’t do it. I felt that I had killed them.”

Because of a promotion the airline was running, there were numerous children on the flight. One was Mr. Bailey, who was 3 at the time and today is a journalist and host, with Andrew Zuckerman, of the podcast Time Sensitive. He remembers nothing of the crash, but he has learned over the years of the efforts of Mr. Haynes and his crew.

“I would not be here, alive and typing this sentence, were it not for the actions of Captain Haynes and those who were in the cockpit with him,” he said by email.

His mother, Frances, died in the crash, but his older brother Brandon survived.

“Brandon and I both know that day will always remain a part of us, but our lives continue onward, growing far beyond it,” Mr. Bailey said. “And for this fact, that we lived on and were able to grow up past July 19, 1989, we largely have Captain Haynes to thank.”

Alfred Clair Haynes was born on Aug. 31, 1931, in Paris, Tex., and raised in Dallas. After three years at Texas A&M University, he joined the Naval Aviation Cadet Training Program in 1952. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, later became a first lieutenant and ended his military career in 1956 as an instructor pilot.

He joined United that year as a flight engineer, became a first officer in 1963 and was promoted to captain in 1985. By the time of the fateful flight, he had almost 30,000 hours of total flight time, including more than 7,000 hours in a DC-10.

Mr. Haynes in Sioux City, Iowa, in 2014, on the 25th anniversary of the United Flight 232 crash. He gave countless speeches. “I tell people it’s about luck, communications, preparation, execution and cooperation,” he once said.

Mr. Haynes, though injured, was flying again within a few months. The accident has been the subject of several books as well as a 1992 television movie, “Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232.” Charlton Heston played Mr. Haynes.

After the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board programmed the conditions faced by the United 232 crew into a flight simulator to see if anything could be gleaned that could be incorporated into pilot training. It found, basically, that what Mr. Haynes and his crew accomplished defied too many odds to be reduced to a pat lesson.

“After carefully observing the performance of a control group of DC-10-qualified pilots in the simulator,” the board said in a report, “it became apparent that training for an attempted landing, comparable to that experienced by UA 232, would not help the crew in successfully handling this problem.”

“The damaged DC-10 airplane, although flyable, could not have been successfully landed on a runway with the loss of all hydraulic flight controls,” the report added. “The Safety Board believes that under the circumstances the UAL flightcrew performance was highly commendable and greatly exceeded reasonable expectations.”

Along with his son Dan and several grandchildren, Mr. Haynes’s survivors include his daughter, Laurie Arguello. In 2003 Mr. Haynes appealed for donations to help her pay for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. His son Tony died in a motorcycle accident in 1996. His wife, Darlene, died not long after.

Mr. Haynes gave countless speeches over the years about his Flight 232 experience.

“I tell people it’s about luck, communications, preparation, execution and cooperation," he told The Sioux City Journal in 2010. “You can apply that to any business and to your life.”

When he wasn’t flying, Mr. Haynes would umpire Little League games, including during the 1978 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

“If he weren’t an airline pilot, he could be a professional umpire,” Jim Chavez, a Little League district administrator, said in 1989 when Mr. Haynes was in the news because of the crash. “He knows the book. When Al calls a strike, you know it’s a strike.”

On Dan Haynes’s Facebook page, the many tributes were as apt to mention the umpiring as they were the heroics.

“A legend in aviation for sure,” one reads, “but he was so much more. I’ll never forget seeing him at the Little League regionals in San Bernardino, where he was the master of ceremonies. He gave a great speech in front of thousands, and then went into a booth behind the outfield, put an apron on, and started selling corn on the cob to raise $ for LL.”

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