Denny Fitch
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CHICAGO (AP) - Airline pilot Denny Fitch was hitching a ride home on a DC-10 in 1989 when heard an explosion somewhere in the back of the jet. He soon made his way to the cockpit to see if the crew needed help.

Inside, he found three men desperately trying to keep the giant plane in the air after losing all hydraulic power needed to control direction and altitude. Fitch took a seat in the only space available - the floor - and helped operate some of the only equipment still working - the wing engines - to try to land the aircraft carrying nearly 300 people.

Fitch, who died Monday at 69, used everything he knew about flying to confront an emergency that engineers never imagined could happen to a modern jetliner.

When the crippled plane crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa, more than half of the passengers survived - one of the most admired life-saving efforts in aviation history.

After the accident, aviation experts conducted simulations in which test pilots and trainer pilots tried to land similarly stricken aircraft.

"I'm not aware of any that replicated the success these guys had," said Mike Hamilton, a United pilot who flew with Fitch. None of the simulator pilots were able to make a survivable landing.

"Most of the simulations never even made it close to the ground," Hamilton said.

And the teamwork of Fitch and the others on the flight deck is still a model for the industry.

"To be one of those pilots, they are all heroes, and he played in instrumental role in saving all those lives," said Susan Callander, a flight attendant on United Flight 232. "What they all did, all working together as a team, now for the rest of history will be part of the training" of flight crews.

Fitch, who had suffered from brain cancer, died at his home in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles. His role began with a small, seemingly meaningless decision he never understood: to get on Flight 232 instead o f another flight scheduled to depart five minutes earlier.

Sitting in a window seat in the last row of first class, Fitch had just finished his lunch and asked the flight attendant for a cup coffee.

Suddenly, the explosion spilled his coffee. As an instructional pilot, he had just spent days training fellow airmen for every conceivable kind of problem - hydraulic failure, immovable flaps, fires and more. He tried to assure a worried flight attendant that everything was going to be fine.

"She said, 'No, you don't understand, we've lost control of the plane,'" Fitch's widow, Rosa, said Wednesday.

The engine in the plane's tail had exploded, sending chunks of metal into the jet's three hydraulic systems. What the crew knew was this: The only thing they could do was turn right by using the engines to vary the amount of thrust on each side.

So for more than 40 minutes, the aircraft flew in circles as it aimed for the Sioux City airport. Al Haynes, the captain who understood as well as anyone the danger of the situation, asked air traffic controllers to keep the jet away from the city.

In an interview for a documentary about the crash, Fitch talked about how his life, anybody's life, can change in an instant.

"What makes you so sure you're going to make it home tonight?" he said. "I was 46 years old the day I walked into that cockpit. I had the world ahead of me. I was a captain on a major U.S. airline. I had a beautiful healthy family, loving wife, great future. And at 4 o'clock I'm trying to stay alive."

Circling above the cornfields, the pilots knew the difficulty of their task. Without the flight-control systems, their landing would be about twice the normal speed.

As the plane made its final descent, Fitch recalled hearing and smelling everything.

"I've never been so alive in my life," he said for a newspaper story marking the 15th anniversary of the crash.

Just above the runway, th e right wing plowed into the ground, sending the jet into a terrifying cartwheel and tearing the fuselage into three chunks as it skidded across the pavement into a cornfield - a scene that was captured on video.

Most of those who were killed were in the first-class area where Fitch had been seated before he went to the cockpit.

Fitch suffered several broken bones, a punctured lung and other injuries that required nine operations, Rosa Fitch said.

The emotional scars were even deeper.

"To find out that 112 people didn't make it, that just about destroyed me," he once said. "I would have given my life for any of them. It was a really tough time."

Fitch became a motivational speaker, who advised others that they should let their family and friends know how much they're loved.

Fitch, whose first wife died of brain cancer in the late 1990s, met Rosa in March 2000, when the two were working - he as a pilot and she as flight attendant - on an ove rseas flight.

"When I got home, the phone was ringing and it was him," she said. "He'd gone through two years of recuperation from the crash and two years of procedures for his wife's illness, and he was looking for some normalcy in his life."

Three months later, they were married, and she said that her husband took his own advice throughout their marriage.

"He couldn't pass me without hugging me or telling me how much he loved me," she said.

Besides his wife, Fitch's survivors include three grown children, two stepchildren and 10 grandchildren.

DON BABWIN, Associated Press

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Published in The Palm Beach Post on May 9, 2012.
Memories & Condolences
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144 entries
October 25, 2020
I just watched the documentary film about UA 232 and I came. I want to express my greatest respect fo you. RIP
September 14, 2020
I’ve watched the documentary several times. Denny was truly a hero. But he saw himself as a regular guy who just did what he had learned & taught. Fly free Denny!
Jan Lorraine Hoyle
May 25, 2020
A true american hero who lived an inspiring life. God bless
May 23, 2020
Amazing pilot. Amazing man. Hero to many. Rip Captain.
Marina Murillo
May 18, 2020
What a beautiful man. He will NEVER be forgotten.
Trent Williamson
May 4, 2020
5/4/2020 -I'm sure he got a special pair of wings in heaven.
Cindy Hawk
January 31, 2020
This hero of a man will never know what he meant to me. The impact his life had on me. His presance will be sorely missed. God's speed Captain.
Gerald York
January 6, 2020
Godspeed Capt Fitch. You were a real hero. My dad retired as a Delta Capt, line check airman, and i know how seriously pilots take flying and safely transporting their passengers. You saved so many lives. I hope you are soaring with eagles in heaven.
Linda Vandervort (Doherty)
December 11, 2019
Heaven has a great pilot up there...he is what a hero looks like!! RIP Mr Fitch.
October 25, 2019
A hero to all. I never knew Dennis in my life but he was a true American Hero. Godspeed Dennis you are a remarkable pilot and American Hero & an inspiration to all.
September 24, 2019
Bravo for your caring about humanity and contribution in bringing people home safely.
September 19, 2019
True American hero
Larry Smith
September 9, 2019
I just heard about you in Dan Coyles, book the Culture Code. When I hear stories of humanity, decency, and heroism it brings me to the verge of tears. When I hear of extraordinary stories like yours, it reminds me that the world is filled with many remarkable and extraordinary people, and maybe we arent in such bad shape. I hope your family is doing well.
Kyle Reber
July 18, 2019
A true American hero.
Susan Chilcote
July 13, 2019
I hope you knew how much you were loved and respected by so many people who didn't even know you, you're are a true American hero. Thank you!
Leslie Edmunds
July 13, 2019
You are a true hero.
July 9, 2019
There are a lot of people walking on this earth today because of a very brave, skilled airman named Denny Fitch. I did not know that he had passed. To make such a remarkable recovery and to fly the blue skies again is a testament to the courage of this great man. God rest ye Denny.
Scott Dunstall
July 3, 2019
I carry this man with me and I never knew him. My role model. Chance tells him him he would not survive 232 but he kept faith. They told him that he would never fly again but he kept faith and he did. Never lose hope.
Ibrahim Soliman
May 19, 2019
Been fascinated by the story of flight 232 for many years. Denny and the other two pilots on board the plane that day did the impossible. I don't think most people really understand how incredible a feat that was. Denny was a true hero and much respect and condolences to his family.
David Suggitt
March 25, 2019
I'm so very sorry that I haven't given this commentary until now, but honestly I didn't know what I could say that would do the man justice. I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Fitch face to face before his passing and that saddens me greatly. He was a wonderful man in the right place at the right time to make one of the most horrible events in aviation history survivable. I realize fully that he had alot of help both in the aircraft and on the ground, but his contribution was so significant that it deserved it's own tribute. I feel that anyone who reads his story, not only of the accident, but also of his life, cannot help but be awed by his dedication to aviation and his love for it. Someday I would like to meet his family and tell them what an inspiration Mr. Fitch was to me and what a magnificent human being I truly believed he was!! May God always be with the entire Fitch family!!!
Mark Sullivan
March 11, 2019
I just watched your extraordinary efforts that saved the lives of so many people on flight 232. I hope you know youre still making an impact. I cant wait to teach my students about you.
Dylan Di Girolamo
January 24, 2019
He was an amazing man and an extraordinary pilot.
George Osborne
January 9, 2019
I've some aviation heroes, Ernie Gann, Jimmy Doolittle to name just two but, none do I hold in higher esteem than, Denny Fitch. In my mind all these men are together in some sort of eternal ethereal cockpit. I should be so lucky someday, to have a seat back in the cabin ...
Jack Jalove
December 6, 2018
What an amazing feat. My condolences to all who love and miss you still. My congratulations to you for being such a shining example throughout your life - to pilots, other crew and passengers. Your leadership brought out the best in your accompanying crew that day. All of you are heroes.
RJ Gray
October 9, 2018
Rest In Peace , a hero , an inspiration .
Jeremy Harcock
September 24, 2018
i have recently discovered the story of united flight sioux city and cried at the bravery and selfless actions of the crew and this man.RIP Mr Fitch you were truly amazing.
Catherine Thompson
July 21, 2018
I later met Denny Fitch when he was living in the Reno area. It was a very snowy day. I was working out of a state day labor hall, when I was sent to his house to shovel his driveway and sidewalk. About halfway through the job, the snow started falling so heavy, that I had to abandon the job. I started walking to a 7-11, and had it not been for a car coming up behind me, I'd have most likely been completely soaked by the time I reached the store.

I went back to his house the next day, and proper introductions were made. He paid me very well for what I tried to do the day before, and pitched-in to clear the snow that'd fallen due to its sheer volume.

He told me the Sioux City story after he mentioned that he was a DC-10 training captain, and downplayed the crucial part he played in the plane's landing. When we were done, he invited me in for dry socks and coffee.

He struck me as a simple, humble man, and I'm glad I had the chance to meet him.
June 18, 2018
Judith Howard
May 23, 2018
I have just seen the story of Captain Denny's heroism through Natgeo, but I never feel too late to admit at the same time admire the action of Capt Denny and Crew in DC 232, really God gives an example of courage and responsibility through Capt Denny and Team, Capt, our prayers are always with you (Usman Ginoga- Batam-Indonesia)
Usman Ginoga
May 18, 2018
Such a lovely, friendly face and a heart full of love and service for others. His family can be so proud of how many lives he helped save in his day-to-day work and on that day in Sioux City. May God grant me a fraction of the demonstrable goodness in my life that Denny showed in his.
May 16, 2018
Dear Captain Denny

Someday I will soar
Where only eagles dare to fly.
My wings will span great distances
In a clear blue azure sky.
So high above this worldly place
That Heaven's doors I'll see.
And angel voices will start to carry me
Through Skies ringing with sweet melody.
For God has promised us this day
If His name we will revere.
And I hold this promise in my heart
As I mount up With wings that shall have no fear.
May you rest in peace.
S Nanda
March 2, 2018
You are a true hero sir, your actions are very inspirational definitely for me.I saw the documentary and your determination to save everyone on board and the way you regretted saying "112 died behind me,I wanted to save them all" was very emotional.I believe all survivors owe a lot to all four of you but brave and best cockpit management you guys taught the aviation industry ,pilots and aspirants remains your best service . God bless your soul.
Sri hara kesavanath Chinimilli
February 11, 2018
I am sorry that I never met Captain Fitch. He is a Hero in every sense of the word. Thank God he was on flight 232 and was able to save many lives. As an Instructor on the DC-10, I know that he did exactly the right thing under unbelieveably horrible circumstanes. God bless you Captain Fitch ~ Captain Nancy Aldrich
Nancy Aldrich
January 17, 2018
It's been almost six years since Captain Denny Fitch passed away but his story and life is still inspiring.
God Bless!
August 12, 2017
I've just read that Denny Fitch pased away, very sad. He was a real hero. May he rest in piece.
July 20, 2017
Dear Denny...I flew out of DEN at the same time as you, also on a DC10, but in the opposite direction. i have known for the past 28 yrs how your knowledge and helpfulness saved so many lives that tragic day in SUX. I didn't know your name, however, til I learned it today from your friend Carl Hankwitz. I met Capt. Haynes at an OSH air show a few yrs later. I'm sorry I never got to meet you too. Perhaps we walked past each other in DEN that day. Perhaps we were seated near each other at the gates. I'll never know. But I do know you are a hero in the truest sense of the word. May you rest in peace always.
Diane Brodis
June 14, 2017
May you rest peacefully Denny! You are a hero! I lived just minute's away from the crash site in Sioux City, IA and will never forget the day the plane crashed. So happy you were on board, you saved so many lives. You are loved and missed.
Robin Taylor
March 23, 2017
Sad but he got extra years. The crew are heros . This from New Zealand
Anne Mcintosh
March 23, 2017
Anne Mcintosh
April 17, 2016
I just read about you and the day of the crash in Iowa and the fact that you did what you did in that plane many people are alive today.

Not a truer statement can be said as we mourn your death let us thank God you lived for it was for purpose and many people are alive because you lived
Dave Johnson
April 1, 2016
You are a hero!!
Judy Smith
March 5, 2016
Danny ... it's 2016 and I came to know about you now. I think whosoever will watch or read about incident of flight 232 in next 100s years that guy will look for you on web.

You were and will be mine real life hero. I am so touched and proud of your heroic act. I can't explain in words how I am feeling. You are a real role model.

It's sad that I can't talk and express to you how much your story has touched me.

My deep respect Hero.
Vaibhav Dixit
June 1, 2015
Rest in peace Danny. I hold you in highest veneration. People accepting responsibility the way you did deserve much more than a Polaris reward. I know you will keep on looking over us pilots and your dearest from high above. Thanks Danny for your inspiration.
Ede Niedrist
February 1, 2015
I'm very sorry Denny, to have learned of your passing. I just watched the documentary and was googling you to see whether it would be possible to meet you. I wanted very much to shake your hand. Very best, Frank
February 1, 2015
Thank you for the inspiration, hope and professionalism. You have shown me the true meaning of being an airline pilot. Godspeed.
George Luaces
December 29, 2014
Rest in peace Mr Fitch, A true hero and you will always be remembered UNITED 232
james dexter
June 9, 2014
I will never forget you. Rest in peace. Thank you for everything you have ever done. When times are tough, i think of you and that quote you used to always say. "Your attitude determines your altitude". Love you forever
May 21, 2014
I never knew or even met Mr. Fitch. I only know him from that miracle in Sioux City. 185 souls owe their lives to Mr. Denny Fitch and the rest of that amazing flight crew. No one should have survived except for the exceptional skill of Denny. It's astounding to think that that aircraft even LANDED at all. By all rights, it should have FALLEN from the sky -- save for an exceptional and brilliant pilot, Denny Fitch.

The 111 who sadly didn't survive now have the chance to shake Denny's hand, smile and say, "Thanks, heck of a job."

You've traded your flight wings for angel's wings, guiding and guarding pilots everywhere.

RIP, Denny.
May 18, 2014
I will always miss you. Rest in peace.
April 29, 2014
To someone who put courage in the hearts of young pilots. You are one of my inspirations. My heart is heavy to find out just now that you have passed. Thank you for being you. Thank you. Thank you. Rip and always fly high. Nothing but love.
April 29, 2014
I just now found out you passed... I'm a young pilot in training and you are a big inspiration to me. I hope that I have the courage and bravey that you had in 1989. Rest in peace and look over us future pilots! my heart is heavy knowing you're gone.
April 1, 2014
Never give up.
Grayson Aronhalt
March 22, 2014
Missing you
October 21, 2013
God bless Denny !! A truly inspirational human being. Rest in peace xx
Tony Chandler
July 22, 2013
Man! I didn't realize he'd died. What an incredible guy. The interview he did with Errol Morris in Errol Morris' First Person (the one entitled "Leaving the Earth") about his experience in the Sioux City flight is the most absorbing hour I've ever spent; really impressive, and strangely, made me feel better about flying, knowing pilots like that are looking out for us. He was really something!

K. Weber, Fort Worth, TX
K. Weber
July 6, 2013
As I watch the news of the crash in San Francisco today I am reminded of how fortunate I was to witness the talk that Denny Fitch gave when I was employed at MBNA. I have never forgotten that speech and to this day I thank every pilot for getting me to my destination safely -- all because of the expertise and selflessness of Denny Fitch. Thank you Mr. Fitch.
A Hunter
May 26, 2013
Goodbye Denny,teach those angels how to really fly,sadly missed.
Ronnie Adam
January 12, 2013
I miss him so much!
C Fitch
December 13, 2012
I still remember seeing the footage that evening on the news. I am so very glad he stood up to the challenge and fear and never forgot those lost. Good to know he continued to be an inspiration even past his passing. God Bless
December 10, 2012
What a hero, inspirational, you are sorely missed. Not many people can say they saved 185 people. Rest in peace x
J Balfour
July 27, 2012
God Speed Denny. We will all remember you for your heroic actions that day.
Mike Muckinhaupt
July 25, 2012
A true hero. I didn't know Mr. Fitch, but after reading his obituary, I am convinced God's still making heroes everywhere, everyday for a special purpose. May the Lord bring you comfort for your loss.
Victoria Freeland
June 24, 2012
As a police sergeant from New York I find Captian Fitch to be one of my personal heroes and think of his calmness under pressure that day as an inspiration in my own career. God bless.
Paul Roullier
June 14, 2012
A hero amongst Angels! Never knew him but knew about his heroism. Made the world a better place! Many families get to Love because of him. Will never forget him!
May 30, 2012
I was employeed as a nuclear engineer at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Not too long after Dennis recovered from his injuries, he spoke to several hundered NRC employees about the events leading up to the crash and its aftermath, espicially for him and his Family. Aside from being a heroric pilot, Dennis was a first-class storyteller. We were all spellbound as he unfolded his story. One statement he made has stayed with me. Recounting the improbability of the initiating event, he said, in effect, a near-impossible accident can happen on "day one". For me, his precience was born out with the nuclear accident in Japan. Dennis's "grit", keen insights, and heroric actions will not be forgotten. My condolences to his family members.
Paul Boehnert
May 23, 2012
To the FITCH family sorry for your loss may GOD give you his love, peace, and strenght in this time of sorrow. May he R.I.P -|-
May 21, 2012
How do you properly thank such a selfless act by anyone? Thank you is the best we can do. I am sure he will be sorely missed by all he met and his family. I mourn with you all and will never forget that day I saw that landing/accident on television.
God has a purpose for all of us. Granted, not usually that dramatic of one, but a purpose none the less.
May 19, 2012
Alice Guckian Queen
May 15, 2012
Your so loved denny
robert moore
May 15, 2012
Denny You were a real hero.You will be greaty missed.RIP [our earths hero]
robert moore
May 14, 2012
Denny was the ultimate professional pilot. Some refer to such as "the pilot's pilot." His cool, calm and rational thinking served to overcome the impossible, saving 185 lives. That alone is the greatest badge of honor anyone could ever hope to acquire during one's brief sojourn on this planet. My sympathy to all who personally knew him. He is truly missed by thousands more.

Robert J. Boser, UAL Captain, retired.
Robert Boser
May 14, 2012
Deepest sympathy to Rosa and all the family. Denny's passing is a loss for all of us, such a wonderful man. He will be missed. You & your family are in our prayers. (Jenkins Chiropractic office)
Diane Limanowski
May 14, 2012
Dear Fitch family,

It is never easy to say goodbye yet when the struggle is over we turn to our faith and know that our good Lord has said ...he is finished with what he needed to do - it is now time to come home. I hope your hearts, that now ache, are filled with joy that Denny is so loved by so many.
God grant you all the grace you need to continue on with his legacy and be be comforted.
Midge Tranchita
May 14, 2012
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
May 13, 2012
A true hero in every sense of the word.Not only for his actions on the plane but for supporting his first wife through her illness
pete knight
May 13, 2012
Captain Fitch's family,

My words cannot express the pride we as professional pilots feel toward your husband and father and friend. I didnt know Denny but I sure do now and that day in 1989 we all did! Every pilot and passenger who has taken to the sky knows of his love for flying and his passion for people. His skills and unwavering concern for others is the legacy he leaves behind that those of us who still fly can emulate! As Captain for American Airlines in Chicago, Denny with be on my jumpseat every flight from Ohare and I am touched by his grace and professionalism.
God speed Captain Fitch

Captain Jon Stevens
Jon Stevens
May 13, 2012
When the odds are against me I want someone like Denny on my side. Remarkable human being. Condolences to family and close friends.
B Allen
May 13, 2012
To leave the world a better place than the way you found it...that's what it's all about, and Denny's life was a textbook example of this.
Mark Maners
May 13, 2012
Celebrating a life well lived. We will cherish the memories forever.
May 12, 2012
bless this wonderful hero
May 12, 2012
The thing is, Mr Fitch was remarkable long before his heroic efforts on flight 232. That is truly his legacy.......
Brenda Marasa
May 12, 2012
I remember going to see my Uncle Denny over summer last year. I will always miss him. That was my best summer vacation. Uncle Denny made it twice as fun.
C Fitch
May 12, 2012
my sincere condolences to the Fitch Family, I have viewed all the youtube videos and advices. RIP,
Rigoberto Pedraza
May 12, 2012
I am a retired United employee and remember the incident well. I heard talks by Capt. Haynes . My condolences to the Fitch family.
Lee Ramsburg
May 11, 2012
Your attitude determines your altitude
-Denny Fitch

Thank you for your great advice. You will be forever missed.
May 11, 2012
My condolences to the family of Denny Fitch--he was a hero in helping to save the lives of those who survived the Sioux City crash--and for his work as a motivational speaker. May his soul rest in peace. Sincerely, Alice R. Anderson
Alice Anderson
May 11, 2012
Dennis, Kim, and Family
So sorry to hear about the loss of your father. One could only hope to have the courage and love for life that your dad had. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your entire family at this time. But, the great memories you have will keep him forever in your hearts.
Mike & Maureen Friedeck
May 11, 2012
Godspeed. This story changed me forever. They dont make guys like that anymore.
May 11, 2012
I am so sorry for your lost. May you and your family rely on God in this time of grief.
May 10, 2012
To Amy, Denny and Brian,
You are in my prayers. God Bless.
A St. Edward alum
May 10, 2012
I still remembered the movie about his amazing job. I do not have words or thoughts why fantastic, dedicated and lovely people leaves our lives that way. I think he left many things undone. My sympathies and my sorrow.
Carlos A. Estrada
May 10, 2012
With so much sadness in our hearts for your loss, dear Rosa and family, we extend our prayers and best wishes to you all. The memories though short with Denny, are sweet to look back on. God love you all.
Dick & Liz Poole
May 10, 2012
An angel on earth now an angel in heaven.
May 10, 2012
Well, Denny, you helped to save more lives than were lost. You taught us who fly airplanes to use our heads and remember how all the controls work when some of them do not. But your best lesson for us is this: If you love someone, show 'em and TELL 'EM.
Garland Goodwin
May 10, 2012
Rosa, My thoughtsand prayers are with you and your family. In Clipped Wings friendship Pat French
May 10, 2012
WOW - learning from his own experience and yet we can read and not do the same. YES letting those we love KNOW IT before they leave our sight or even as Denny while in our sight is a wonderful thing. Of course proving him a wonderful husband and surely father and Grandpa as well I'm saddened by his shortened life but I guess he was needed piloting something a little higher up than our reachable clouds. R.I.P. Denny kinda think you"ve earned a pair of HEAVEN WINGS since this is your FIRST flight. You will now have the chance to meet all those that didn't make it yet thank you for the heroic try.
Judie Hussey
May 10, 2012
As an aviation enthusiast I only know of Mr. Fitch from the numerous UA 232 programs. I always found it heartbreaking that he seemed so distraught over the lives lost that day...i hope he now knows the peace he rightfully deserved when he saved 185 other souls. He was an honor to our industry.
May 10, 2012
I heard Denny speak once and was mezmerized and deeply moved by him. He is missed by many I am sure.
Jeffrey Kyff
May 10, 2012
Imagine how many people's lives he impacted by saving the people on that flight. Friends, family, siblings, parents, offspring, easily over a 1000 people. What he did was beyond words.
Peter L:ee
May 10, 2012
We remember meeting Denny and family in 1969 when we moved into the same apartment complex. We've considered him a good friend ever since. We're deeply saddened. God bless Mark&Linda Klausner
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