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The Chamber’s Executive Vice President, Chris McGowan, wrote an article (below) that was printed in the Sunday, July 19 Business section of the Sioux City Journal.
Tragedy and Triumph: The Aftermath of 232
Occasionally, a single incident defines a person’s reputation or legacy. For example, Rosa Park’s refusal to surrender her seat on a bus in 1955 or Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon in 1969.
Likewise, communities are sometimes similarly recognized and draw their primary identity from a single incident or event. Such is the case with Woodstock, New York which will be forever tied to the music festival of the same name.
From time to time, I am asked if Sioux City enjoys a comparable distinction. In one respect, I think we do. I believe our community is inextricably linked to the tragedy and aftermath of the events of twenty years ago today.
As an employee of The Siouxland Initiative, I work closely with local economic development professionals who are committed to creating additional and enhanced employment opportunities for our tri-state region. My position has taken me from coast to coast and, on one occasion, overseas to recruit new employers to Siouxland. In this capacity, I work to promote the region and educate people who generally possess limited knowledge of where “Siouxland” is on the map, what our core industries are, how productive are employees are, etc.
In a nutshell, I have the privilege and responsibility to introduce my hometown to others.
In so doing, I regularly explain that I am from Sioux City, Iowa and represent the tri-state area of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Frequently and recurrently, I am asked, “Isn’t that where that terrible plane crash occurred?” After an affirmative response, a typical follow-up conversation might go something like this.
“That was the crash where they were able to videotape the airplane as it cart-wheeled down the runway in a fireball, right?”
“Yes, United Flight 232 on July 19, 1989,” I’d reply.
“And didn’t the pilot and air crew do an amazing job flying without any flight controls?”
“Yes, Captain Al Haynes and his crew miraculously maintained rudimentary control of the aircraft after all three hydraulic systems were severed by the metal fragments of a disintegrating jet engine.”
“Oh yeah, and after the plane crashed into that cornfield, weren’t there an amazing number of survivors?”
“Yes, there were 296 souls on board and tragically 112 lost their lives, but 184 survived in large part due to the skill of the flight crew and the competence of the thousands of trained personnel who responded to the crash on the ground.”
“Of course, of course. I remember that famous photograph of the pilot carrying that little boy out of the cornfield.”
“That was Col. Denny Nielsen and the famous photograph by Gary Anderson of the Sioux City Journal appeared on front pages and magazine covers all over the world. At the time, Col. Nielsen was an A-7 fighter pilot with the 185th Tactical Fighter Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard. You may remember his famous response upon being asked what it felt like to save the boy’s life, ‘God saved that boy, I just carried him,’ Nielsen explained.”
“Wow, now that’s humility. Didn’t they make a film about this starring Charlton Heston, James Coburn and John-Boy from the Walton’s.”
“Yes, they initially called the made for television movie “Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232,” but later they simply titled it “A Thousand Heroes.”
“A Thousand Heroes is absolutely right. I remember the movie’s depiction of the incredible response from the community; the military, the firefighters, hospitals, doctors and nurses, disaster response personnel, volunteers, and blood donors. Everyone was simply amazing!”
“I was out of town when the crash occurred, but I cannot tell you how proud I am to call Sioux City home and to know that people around the country, like you, still recognize and remember our community’s response to that tragic crash.”
Two decades removed from that day, Sioux City is certainly known for other things as well, but after traveling extensively to promote our community, I have found that many people still associate Sioux City with our response to United Flight 232. As one reporter recently wrote… “the tragedy, along with the community’s heroic rescue effort, is anything but forgotten.” People from Sioux City and all of the surrounding communities who responded to that disaster should know that their actions defined Siouxland, for many, as a community of decent and caring people who possess a cooperative and “can-do” spirit.
Twenty years ago, the United Flight 232 tragedy revealed the true character of the citizens of our Siouxland communities. Long known as humble, hardworking, and honest, on July 19, 1989, the world witnessed compassion, courage, and competence from countless individuals and organizations who instinctively understood the importance of selflessly serving others in their hour of greatest need.
As Captain Al Haynes, portrayed by the late Charlton Heston, states in the movie, “Of all the places in America we could have landed, I thank God it was here.”