SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - On July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 from Denver to Chicago crash landed outside of Sioux City due to engine failure. Of the 296 passengers on board, 112 died in the crash while 184 survived.
The crash, the fifth-deadliest involving a DC-10, has been lauded as an example of how a flight crew can handle an emergency without conventional control as well as how a community can band together in uncertain times.
More than 30 years later, the legacy of Flight 232 left a lasting impression on the survivors as well as on many Siouxland residents.
This was what Alex Johnson found out when she and her fellow Bishop Heelan Catholic High School soon-to-be-seniors Anna Paskey, Izzy Gunderson and Jacob Salmen combed through archival material on the crash and conducted interviews.
“Even after all that time, the memories remain fresh,” Johnson told the Sioux City Journal.
The research of the students, titled “Flight 232: Breaking Barriers in the Community Response,” was one of two presentations selected from the state of Iowa to compete in the National History Day Contest.
Established in 1974, the National History Day Contest currently engages more than half a million students every year in conducting original research on historical topics of interest.
Students present their findings in such ways as documentary, paper or, in the case of the Heelan students, a website.
During other years, students would present their original research to National History Day judges, in person, in College Park, Maryland.
This year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the competition was a “virtual” one.
“Ordinarily, the judges would look at our website and ask questions afterwards,” Johnson’s teammate Anna Paskey said of the contest that was held June 14-20. “This year, judges had to rely solely on our website.”
Johnson said the team was OK with that since they had advanced through the district and the state rounds of the National History Day contest on the strength of their website. That was all due to COVID-19.
“We used it as an opportunity to add more research and make the website more complete,” Johnson said.
Specifically, the students noted that the Flight 232 emergency plan broke barriers because it allowed organizations like fire departments, hospitals, law enforcement, the Iowa National Guard and many others to work together.
Similarly, Siouxland broke barriers because citizens came together to support survivors of the crash as well as first responders by providing food, clothing and lodging.
“This is why (Flight 232) was so memorable for so many people,” Paskey said. “If you worked in a hospital, you were called in to help. Even if you donated blood as a result of the crash, you knew you were helping out.”
That was what Johnson wanted people to take away from their presentation.
“When faced with an emergency, Siouxland came together as a community,” she said.
Indeed, Johnson said the research inspired Heelan faculty members as well as her own family to share their own “Flight 232″ memories.
“It was really interesting,” she said. “This was stuff you wouldn’t get from a history book.”
Paskey said her team will find out how well they did at the National History Day Contest later this week.
No matter how well they do, Paskey will take what she learned while applying it to future studies.
“I’d like to become a software engineer after college,” she said.
Johnson wants to have a career in international business.
“Everyone can break barriers while coming together,” she said, “That’s what makes us stronger.”
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