United Airlines Capt. Alfred C. Haynes had planned to spend Thursday at home in Seattle, umpiring the district Little League championships. Instead, he spent the day resting in an Iowa hospital, being hailed as a hero for his piloting of the crippled DC-10 jumbo jet that crash-landed in Sioux City Wednesday afternoon.
Fellow pilots said that preliminary reports of the massive engine and hydraulic malfunctions that afflicted the aircraft in flight have left them wondering how Haynes was able to control the 15-year-old plane at all.
But, they said, the former Marine Corps aviator--one of United Airline's most senior pilots--is among the best in his field.
"He was always top-notch," said retired United Capt. Dick Weisner, who served as Haynes' supervisor for many years. "He's a very fine pilot," Weisner said. "I can't recommend anybody any higher."
A surviving passenger put the matter more simply. "Our pilot was a hero," John Transue told reporters. "He really saved our butts."
Friends and neighbors of Haynes in Seattle said that a hero label fits the pilot, who was named the state's Little League Volunteer of the Year days before he left on Flight 232.
"Just knowing him and the way he is, I would have wanted him to be the man behind the controls," said Jim Chavez, who has worked closely with Haynes in Little League for nine years.
Chavez said Haynes planned to umpire the district league championships on Sunday, but it rained so he promised to be back on Thursday to call the rescheduled games.
Instead, the veteran pilot was in a Sioux City hospital after the ordeal that began Wednesday 1 1/2 hours after his plane, carrying 282 passengers, a three-person cockpit crew and eight flight attendants, left Denver en route to Chicago.
Speaking to air traffic controllers in Minneapolis, Haynes reported that the plane had lost power in one of its three engines, was losing altitude and becoming difficult to control. A minute later, he reported "complete hydraulic failure"--total loss of the systems that allow the pilot to control the plane's rudder, ailerons, flaps and other vital equipment.
For the next 41 minutes, Haynes, First Officer W. R. Records and Second Officer D. J. Dvorak, struggled to bring the giant plane safely to the ground from 31,000 feet as flight attendants drilled passengers in the procedure for a crash landing.
Thursday, United officials were crediting the crew's work with the survival of more than half the passengers aboard the jetliner, which rolled over repeatedly and burst into flames after touching down just short of the runway.
United Airlines Chairman Stephen M. Wolf said after visiting crew members in the Sioux City hospital that the fact that so many survived the crash of Flight 232 "is a remarkable tribute to the expertise and courage of the crew, particularly the heroic flying skills of Capt. Haynes."
Moments before the plane touched down in Sioux City, Haynes warned passengers that the landing would be difficult and flight attendants warned passengers to brace themselves. A few feet from the ground, the plane pitched suddenly to the right and the wing touched down, sending the craft into a fiery, cartwheel that split the fuselage into several huge pieces. Rescuers using a forklift found Haynes and his fellow crew members trapped in the cockpit, suffering lacerations on their heads and arms.
One Attendant Missing
Among the flight attendants, United said that seven survived. One was still reported missing Thursday evening.
The mother of one of the flight attendants recalled watching the disaster on television, certain that her daughter was among the crew.
A few moments later, the phone rang, Jane Murray of Chester, S.C., recalled. It was her daughter, Virginia Jane, "telling me she was all right."
"It was the sweetest news to my ears," Murray said. "We're just very grateful."