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Al Haynes (1931–2019), heroic pilot of United Flight 232

AP Photo / John Gaps III

After engine and hydraulic failure, he helped guide his DC-10 to a miraculous emergency landing

Al Haynes was a United Airlines pilot who made a heroic landing when his DC-10’s engine and hydraulic system failed. Haynes was piloting United Flight 232 on July 19, 1989 when the tail-mounted engine failed, followed by failure of the hydraulic system that allowed the pilots to steer the plane. With 296 people on board the plane, Haynes and his co-pilots — along with a passenger who happened to be a pilot and jumped in to help — used throttles and thrust to attempt to guide the massive aircraft to a landing in Sioux City, Iowa. As they approached the runway, landing with no brakes or spoilers, the crew lowered the landing gear to try to counteract some of the shock of impact. But a wing touched the ground, causing the plane to cartwheel. Despite the crash landing, 184 passengers and crew survived. Though Haynes later said he felt guilty about surviving when 112 people died in the crash, he was hailed as a hero for guiding the plane to the ground without further loss of life. He preferred to give credit to the co-pilots and crew for the team effort they put in. After his 1991 retirement, Haynes worked to advance flight safety.

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Died: August 25, 2019 (Who else died on August 25?)

Details of death: Died in a hospital in Seattle after a brief illness at the age of 87.


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A one-in-a-million landing: The 1989 incident wasn’t just any emergency landing. The combination of engine loss and hydraulic failure offered the pilots a virtually impossible scenario. The landing has been attempted over and over in flight simulators in the years since the crash, and according to United pilot Mike Hamilton, none of those simulations have ended without the plane plummeting from the sky. Haynes and his crew had the skill and luck to save lives that were all but doomed.

What Haynes told his passengers: “I’m not going to kid you. We’re going to make an emergency landing in Sioux City. …It’s going to be a very hard landing, harder than anything you’ve been through. Please pay close attention to the flight attendants’ briefing, and we’ll see you in Sioux City.”

What people said about him: “Captain Haynes was a hero and consummate professional who exemplified what it means to be an airline pilot. Thirty years after his heroic efforts on United Flight 232, we are still reminded that the most important systems on any aircraft are well-trained pilots working effectively as a crew. The pilots of United Airlines are proud to call him a union brother, fellow aviator and friend. We will miss him dearly.” —Statement from United Airlines Pilots

“An aviator who set the bar and inspired many of us in our profession. May he rest in peace.” —Pilot Kelly Lepley

“Al Haynes, the hero pilot who saved 184 lives by landing a crippled passenger plane in 1989, died Sunday — just shy of his 88th birthday. He was the best kind of leader: brilliant, brave, composed, and unfailingly modest.” —Wall Street Journal columnist Sam Walker

Full obituary: Des Moines Register

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