Somewhere over western Iowa, the No. 2 engine above the tail of United Airlines Flight 232 exploded on July 19, 1989. Shrapnel sliced all the DC-10’s hydraulic lines, critical for flight control.
Capt. Alfred C. “Al” Haynes, the crippled aircraft’s pilot, and his crew eventually found a crude steering mechanism to keep the plane aloft by alternating thrust to both engines, keeping the plane aloft for more than 40 minutes.
Haynes worked with air traffic controllers to find a place to put the plane down, eventually deciding on Sioux City’s Gateway Airport. The plane crashed and exploded; 112 people died, but 184 lived.
The efforts of Haynes and his crew in the air and the unprecedented coordination of emergency services on the ground by Sioux City-area disaster personnel were credited with preventing an even greater catastrophe 30 years ago.
Haynes died Sunday in Seattle at age 87 after a brief illness. He spent the past three decades remembering those who died in the crash.
"On my mind forever will be the thoughts of the 112 who did not survive," Haynes said in an email to the Des Moines Register in 2014, on the 25th anniversary of the crash.
Haynes rejected the title of hero and deferred credit to the flight attendants, whom he believed did not receive enough credit for saving lives in the crash's aftermath, and to Gary Brown, the Woodbury County emergency management coordinator.
"He was the most humble man I've ever met in my life," Brown, who became close friends with Haynes, told the Sioux City Journal on Sunday.
The plane broke into four sections. Dozens of wounded passengers could be seen walking out of the nearby cornfields.
Haynes spoke about the crash across the country and worked on aviation safety for the remainder of his career. He took time to meet with survivors and the victims' families. He made time to meet with anyone who suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I was always wondering and fighting, 'Why didn't all 296 survive?'" Haynes told the Rocky Mountain News for a 2005 profile. "Over time, I see we were extremely fortunate. My question is, 'How did 184 survive?' It should have been a non-survivable crash."
Haynes was born in Paris, Texas, and raised in Dallas. He graduated from Texas A&M College (now a university) before entering the Naval Aviation Cadet Training program in 1952. He served four years as a Marine aviator and flight instructor.
Haynes joined United Airlines in 1952 and served as a flight engineer, first officer and captain for 35 years until he retired in 1991.
Tragedy and strife dogged Haynes in his personal life. His oldest son, Tony, died in a motorcycle crash in 1997. Two years later, his wife of 40 years, Darline, died from a rare infection.
His daughter, Laurie Haynes Arguello, suffered from a rare bone marrow disease. But Haynes' friends and family raised more than $550,000 to help cover the cost of an operation in 2003 to ensure her survival.
Haynes lived in Seattle and volunteered as a Little League Baseball umpire for more than 33 years and was a stadium announcer for high school football for more than 25 years, according to his biography at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Haynes described talking publicly about the Flight 232 disaster both as a form of therapy and as a way to honor both those who'd survived and those who were lost in the crash.
"The only thing that concerns me about that whole crash is that we weren't able to save everybody," he told the Rocky Mountain News.
He remembered how calm the passengers were, even when he explained the gravity of the situation.
"I will stand in awe of them," he said, "for the rest of my life."
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Al Haynes, pilot of United Flight 232, dies 30 years after plane crash