ALTA, Iowa — Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. One-hundred and twelve people died in the crash, while many were saved. The aircraft’s tail fin engine encountered an explosion over Buena Vista County, causing shrapnel from the engine to damage all three hydraulic systems controlling the plane.
Many have heard of the heroics of the flight crew and ground rescuers in sparing so many lives at Sioux City. Part of this story, which doesn’t get much mention is the part of the aircraft which was blown off in the initial explosion, and landed real close to a northwest Iowa farmhouse.
On Neal and Mitch Quirin’s seed farm workers took their regular mid-afternoon break working a seed plot between the house and the road on the seed farm. When the workers returned they saw a big piece of a jet airliner near where they had been working.
Neil Quirin remembers workers hollering at him, there was an airplane part in their field, he says he responded, “What the Sam Hill are you talking about?”
Soon the Buena Vista County Sheriff’s Department was on the scene. At first no one knew anything about an aircraft in trouble. A few minutes later Sheriff’s radios told the story, a crippled DC-10 was trying to make a landing at the Sioux City Airport.
“As you look at this and then you think, people are possibly gonna die,” said the elder Quirin. When asked how close employees came to being hit by the falling debris, he said “no one really thought about that,” adding they were concerned for the people on the airplane.
The National Transportation Safety Board asked the Sheriff to secure the tail cone inside a Quirin seed shed. The NTSB was too busy in Sioux City to come out, a few days later the National Guard hauled the piece to Sioux City with the rest of the wreckage.
A representative of General Electric was on the Quirin farm for several weeks looking to find pieces of the engine to help explain what happened. Cash rewards were offered as a way to quickly find key engine pieces. One key fan assembly was not found until a combine went over it during harvest.