A few years ago I had the opportunity at an aviation function to hear the UA
pilot that was deadheading on UA
232, Captain Denny Fitch give a speech on the events that day.
He presented an audio and video timeline combining in sequence the cockpit tapes recovered for the airplane, communications between the various ATC centers and the tower at Sioux City and emergency personnel. As this video proceeded he would narrate other events that were going on in the cockpit. This video continued after the crash to show the rescue operation.
During this approximately 45 minute presentation, not one person talked or even moved from their tables, that’s how compelling and emotional this was. At the end of his presentation, he broke down and started crying because of the lives lost. He said that he had done this presentation over a hundred times and every time he does it he still cries. He is a very religious person and thanked god he and the other survived, but that he was not able to save those who perished that day.
A few things he said were quite amazing.
When Capt. Haynes contacted UA
maintenance base for instructions, they were told there was nothing that they could do because this was never supposed to happen and Douglas Aircraft had no procedures for this. When he asked them to think of something they were reluctant to communicate back to the aircraft. After the accident when the flight crew met the maintenance personnel at SFO
and asked why they would not respond to their requests, they replied it was because they thought they were talking to dead people.
One of the pictures showed a rolled up ball of aluminum and wires. When the airplane cartwheeled and broke up, the cockpit section broke off and was about 200 feet from the main wreckage in the tall corn. No one from the rescue crews came over to this ball of wreckage until about a half hour later and only then did they realize that this was the cockpit section and the flight crew was still alive and trapped in there.
He also showed a picture that a farmer took while he was out in his cornfield and it showed the damage to the horizontal stabilizer and all the flight controls in a slight dropped position. None of the flight controls were jammed, because they had no hydraulic pressure they just dropped down a little.
They were able to lower the landing gear using the emergency extension system and if they were able to land on a runway, they had enough brake pressure in the emergency brake system to apply the brakes. They did think they had a good chance to make the runway once they started the final approach.
Capt. Fitch saved a lot of lives that day.