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Morningsiders remember United Airlines Flight 232

July 19, 2019, in Latest News

It was 30 years ago today that United Airlines Flight 232 crashed during an emergency landing at the Sioux Gateway Airport. There were 111 people who died in the crash, but there were also 185 people who survived. Morningsiders remember the crash and the well-coordinated efforts in Siouxland to respond to the disaster.

 

Dave Madsen, assistant professor and department head for mass communication

I was working at KTIV-TV at the time as the program/operations manager. The station was buzzing about what might be happening because of what we heard on the police radios. We heard that U232 was having difficulty, and was probably going to try to land in Sioux City. At one point, we heard officials suggesting the plane try to land on Highway 20 if they couldn’t make it to the airport. As the plane got closer and closer to Sioux City, many of us went outside to see what we could see. I remember seeing the plane overhead, much lower than planes usually would fly near the TV station on Sioux City’s north side. Then the plane disappeared below where we could see it. One of our photographers had been dispatched to the airport to cover what everyone thought would just be an emergency landing. The photographer was in place to shoot video of the plane as it landed, but what he got, as United 232 crashed, was the only actual footage of the crash, something that very rarely is available. So, while our station went on the air with continuous coverage of the crash and rescue effort, we were inundated by requests from around the world to see our footage (which you can see at this link). Those were the days long before regular video-sharing platforms like YouTube, so much of what we were getting were requests to make actual copies of the video tape available to ship around the world. My job that day was to take in all those requests and feed them through to the newsroom. Wow, literally talking to other news organizations from all over the world, and trying to keep unauthorized use of our video from making it to air. To get an idea of what was going on in our newsroom that day,  see this video.

 

Gene Ambroson, retired director of alumni relations

I was director of public affairs at Morningside at the time and also on the public affairs staff with the 185th Air National Guard headquartered in Sioux City. As I recall it, Morningside College opened its doors to the families of survivors and the National Transportation and Safety Board. They were housed in Dimmit Hall and were provided breakfast and dinner. At the time, George Allen, former Morningside College coach and retired NFL head coach of the Washington Redskins, was on campus conducting motivational drills with the Morningside College football team. Allen became very involved with those that survived, having paid several visits to both Marian Health and St. Luke's.  There is a photo of Allen with a young boy in the hospital where he had signed a football…What may have seemed chaotic at the time turned out to be one of the most well-coordinated community efforts ever. Because the plane landed at the Sioux City airport and because local officials – Air Guard, Fire Department and the Emergency Services Department, along with all law enforcement agencies – had trained for such a possibility, 185 survived. Unfortunately, 111 people perished. In addition to all the governmental resources and agencies involved, the hospitals and their respective staff did herculean work.  Add to that a community that came together and donated blood, food, places to stay, and houses of worship praying for families of victims and those hospitalized. It was truly a community-wide effort to deal with one of the largest tragedies to hit Sioux City.

 

Char Jorgenson, management information system coordinator for admissions

A lot of us volunteered in the residence halls … one of the places that people who came to work/investigate slept. There were pilots and government officials. I was proud of how the Siouxland community pulled together to help those in need. I know of stories about people who helped that needed counseling because of what they saw. You never realize how many areas are needed to make it work. You of course think of the medical people, but an example was my brother, who worked for an office supply store. They were sent to the site to set up individual areas for the evidence to be placed. It really is a ripple effect. It touches everyone. I am amazed at the number who survived.

 

Pat Graham, adjunct professor of graduate nursing

I was working the 3-11:30 p.m. shift at St. Luke’s ER as a staff nurse when Flight 232 crashed in Sioux City. My memory of that day was an accumulation of gratitude for the outpouring of support from all of the health care providers that showed up and helped us care for the injured. People in the community didn’t hesitate to help. The 185th Guard, rescue units, volunteers, local colleges offering dorm rooms for families. The list goes on and on and on. It was the goodness in this community which prevailed. I felt great sadness for the lives lost, for the children that survived and lost a parent. For the parent who survived and lost a child. We felt loved and supported caring for these patients and held up by a power stronger than us. There was a peacefulness I can’t describe working in the midst of this tragedy. God bless all the families that lost a family member. And God bless everyone who gave of themselves professionally and personally and responded with kindness and compassion. Those are my memories of the Flight 232 plane crash 30 years ago.

 

Jackie Barber, dean of the Nylen School of Nursing

I remember watching the Flight 232 event when it happened. The year prior, I helped with the mock disaster drill that prepared Siouxland to respond to a plane crash. I was a high school student at the time. 

 

Brett Lyon, director of safety and security

I still remember that day very well. At the time, I was living in Homer, Neb. My friend, Brandon, and I were riding our bikes around town that day up by his grandparents’ house. His grandma got a call from his grandpa who worked for the railroad. At the time, they were down by the airport working on the tracks. He called to tell her that a plane had called for an emergency landing. A few minutes after his grandpa called, we heard the Homer Volunteer Fire Department being called out to assist at the airport. We both knew this wasn't a good situation if our fire department was being called out to assist over in Sioux City at the airport. We saw the plane coming in and then we saw the smoke. We then saw the footage on the news.  When you're only 8 or 9 years old, that image will always be in your mind. 

 

Jerry Meisner, assistant director of safety and security

I was at the 232 crash. I was with the sheriff's department when it happened. I had to stand guard over the wreckage and the deceased that first night. I was just 17 at the time. At that time, I was in the sheriff's youth program called the Explorers.  I was in training to become a reserve deputy sheriff. When I arrived on scene, I was sent to a staging area near Gary Brown's vehicle. Once the survivors were removed, I was taken out to the tail section of the aircraft. Debris was scattered everywhere, and it appeared as if the area had been hit by a bomb. I stood guard at that spot until dusk when a military helicopter landed and I was relieved. I then walked up through the debris field to where the cockpit was.  I spent the rest of the night there with other members of my unit. People who had died on scene where left there overnight.  We had learned that the flight crew had survived the crash, which surprised us, as the cockpit was a tangled mess of wires and metal. I was assigned duty there on a few other nights after the incident, but I will never forget the first night. The sounds, smells, and sights haunt me to this day.  I am unable to fly and still have nightmares from time to time. Afterwards, I received an award from the department as well as from JCPenney.  I also received a scholarship from United Airlines.