Yesterday, while watching television, one of the shows I like to watch…Why Planes Crash…came on. This particular episode included the cause of Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. This particular crash had an enormous impact on my own life, and that of my mother’s family. It was the one in which my Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed. I have watched the footage numerous times, as well as the episode of Why Planes Crash that contained the answer, but it seems that each time, I learn something new about the crash. I’m not sure why some of the information didn’t stick in my head the first time it was aired, because it most certainly was information that was pointed out. Nevertheless, it didn’t stick in my head that first time or even the subsequent times…until now.
I have often wondered why it takes so long to find the cause of some of the plane crashes…especially the ones where there were survivors and where the black box was so easily found, but sometimes it just does take time. One of the possibilities is that some of the tiny parts, or even large parts of the plane seem to be missing. That was the case with Flight 232. The entire fan disk of its tail mounted General Electric CF6-6 engine failed and disintegrated. I’m sure that the investigators knew that something happened to the fan disk, but without it, they could not say what happened. The initial explosion that was heard was over Alta, Iowa…about 60 miles from their final crash site in Sioux City, Iowa. This was the point when the fan disk disintegrated. Now, 60 miles may not seem like such a large distance, but add to that the fact that the plane circled around trying to burn up it’s fuel, and trying to stay upright, and the fact that when the fan disk disintegrated, it was traveling at a tremendous amount of speed. In the end, the fan disk was discovered quite by accident three months later, on October 10, 1989, when Janice Sorenson, a farmer harvesting corn near Alta, Iowa, felt resistance on her combine, and after getting out to investigate, discovered most of the fan disk with a number of blades still attached partially buried in her cornfield. The rest of the fan disk and most of the additional blades were located later in the harvest. That would be the point that the investigation could finally bring to a conclusion the actual cause of the crash that had taken my great aunt’s life.
That event has always been a little fuzzy for me. Not the crash, or even the loss of Aunt Gladys, but the whole investigation. For years I’m not sure I really wrapped my mind around the cause of the crash…at least not until I saw the animated reenactment of the crash. Then it became crystal clear what had happened. The breaking up of the fan disk, caused by a crack that happened when the disk was made, due to impurities in the Titanium, brought down the plane. The crew, including a flight instructor who happened to be onboard, did an amazing job in their efforts not to crash. In the end, it would be on slight dip of the wind caused by a failed hydraulic system that would cause it to tap the ground and cartwheel the plane. It was the event that would forever change our family, from one who had never had someone killed in an airplane crash, to one the had. We would never forget it, and we deeply miss Aunt Gladys to this day.