This is a really impressive video simulation of United flight 232, the 1989 Sioux City accident, that combines air traffic control and contemporary news footage to give an understanding of what happened that day on July 19.
The Sioux City crash is one of the most famous of the last forty years. A DC10 from Denver’s old Stapleton airport to Chicago O’Hare had 296 passengers and crew onboard. 111 people died, but it’s considered a miracle and a testament to the crew onboard that the rest survived.
Pilots landed the plane without full control, flight attendants got passengers off the aircraft once on the ground, and emergency responders at the airport — who had just drilled for a similar incident the week before — all made survival for 185 people possible.
This 16 year old DC10 had 43,401 hours and 16,997 cycles under its belt. The captain had 33 years of experience and over 30,000 flight hours with United.
At 37,000 feet the tail mounted engine exploded and disintegrated. Debris punctured the plane’s hydraulics and it would not longer respond to controls. There were no procedures for total loss of hydraulics on a DC-10. The cockpit crew managed the level the aircraft by adjusting power to the remaining engines.
They declared an emergency and tried to head for Sioux City. When air traffic control told them they were cleared to land, they were told “any runway.” The Captain, somehow mustering gallows humor, replied “You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?”
They planned to land on runway 31 but lack of control of the aircraft prevented them from lining up for it. They dumped fuel and managed to make a series of right hand turns, ultimately lining up with the shorter (and permanently closed) runwaay 22.
The DC10 came down fast without flaps or slats. The right wing hit the runway, spilled fuel, and caught fire. Part of the tail broke off. The rest of the plane started to break apart as well.
Some passengers died from the impact. Others died from smoke inhalation. Sadly the flight had 52 children onboard. Eleven children died, including one lap infant and several unaccompanied minors.
There was a fatigue crack in the engine fan disk. The NTSB blamed United’s engine overhaul facility for the failure. GE learned from this crash to adjust its engine production process to reduce the changes of metal fatigue.