Al Haynes, pilot who saved 184 lives during 1989 plane crash, dies at 87
By KEERTHI VEDANTAM | The Seattle Times | Published: August 28, 2019
SEATTLE (Tribune News Service) — Alfred C. Haynes, who became a hero to pilots everywhere for saving more than 100 lives during a crash landing, died Sunday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. He was 87.
On July 19, 1989, the rear engine of the United Airlines DC-10 he was piloting exploded at 37,000 feet on the way from Denver to Chicago. Shrapnel from the explosion broke the trijet’s hydraulic lines, making it nearly impossible for the flight crew to control the plummeting plane.
Under the command of Mr. Haynes, crew members alternated throttling the left and right engines to steer as the plane spiraled downwards. They were in charge of nearly 300 people, 52 of them children.
A tower controller told Mr. Haynes he was cleared for landing on the runway in Sioux City, Iowa.
“You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?” Mr. Haynes joked.
The plane skidded across the runway in a fiery blast and landed upside-down in a cornfield. Although 111 people died that day — another would die a month later from injuries sustained in the crash — the 184 who lived became a family of their own.
“He was the leader,” said Bill Records, Mr. Haynes’ first officer, said this week in an interview. “He was the captain of our whole family.“
It went both ways. When Mr. Haynes’ daughter, Laurie Arguello, needed a bone-marrow transplant in 2003, the survivors of the United 232 crash and the pilots union raised money to make the treatment possible.
In July, around 40 survivors from all over the country gathered at a flight attendant’s home in Denver to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the crash. Records and his wife, Faith, flew from Woodinville. Records would recount how Mr. Haynes instructed him and the flight crew through the intricacies of the plane’s mechanics — what do when one system broke, then another, then another. Faith Records said the crowd latched on to every word.
Mr. Haynes, who would have turned 88 this week, was noticeably absent from that reunion. He was already in the intensive care-unit.
“That’s when we knew,” said Faith Records, “he wouldn’t be able to tell his story much longer.”
Mr. Haynes’ story extended far beyond the crash. Three months after he was cut out of the crumpled airliner, he resumed flying for short time before he was forced to retire at age 60.
It was the end of a 34-year career in flight. Mr. Haynes, born in Paris, Texas, studied industrial technology at Texas A&M for three years and then joined the Naval Aviation Cadet Training program. He served as a Marine aviator until 1956, when he became a commercial pilot with United Airlines.
Mr. Haynes, Records, and the flight’s second officer, Dudley Dvorak, kept in touch in the decades afterwards. Mr. Haynes lived in SeaTac, where he had raised his family, and Dvorak lived in Lakewood. Records and Dvorak would meet up with Mr. Haynes in SeaTac once a month to keep each other updated on their lives and catch up on ball games. Records said Mr. Haynes had the uncanny ability to make him laugh until he wheezed.
Mr. Haynes filled his days with Little League umpiring, a tradition he started in 1970 when his 9-year-old son, Dan, started playing, and he was an announcer for local high school football teams.
He gave thousands of talks around the world about emergency preparedness and safety — his children said they received monthly calendars from him with 20 days blocked off for speaking engagements.
“He wanted something positive to come out of the bad things that happened,” said Arguello. “It was really important to him that people knew about how important teamwork was.”
Mr. Haynes’ children said he earned plenty of money by the time he retired from speaking, recounting the crash and lessons about emergency response sprinkled with his dry wit.
“He was really good at talking to people,” his son Dan Haynes, said, “which he had never done before except over the intercom.”
Mr. Haynes donated money he made from those talks to a number of causes. Scholarships were set up for the children of crew members who died in the crash, including the newborn son of Jerry Kennedy, who was returning home after completing his training as a flight officer.
“He was just a people person,” Records said. “He had no interest in big financial trappings.”
Mr. Haynes also donated money for scholarships for students in the Sioux City area who wanted to go into health services.
“That was because of all the special care we received from Sioux City,” Dvorak said.
The crash had lasting impacts on the industry as well. New airplane skeletons with more protection around the hydraulic lines were introduced. The Federal Aviation Administration implemented stricter regulations for plane inspections.
Both Dvorak and Records said Mr. Haynes never lost his sense of humor.
Dvorak said he vividly remembers when the plane skidded to a halt and the cockpit crumpled. The lights shut off, and after a beat, Mr. Haynes asked him where he was.
“I’m right above you,” Dvorak said.
Haynes, under a pile of aluminum and machinery, replied, “I think you need to lose some weight.”
Besides daughter Laurie Arguello and son Dan, Mr. Haynes is survived by several grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, Tony, in 1996, and his wife, Darlene, in 1997.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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