Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival

by Laurence Gonzales

The Book

As hundreds of rescue workers waited on the ground, United Airlines Flight 232 wallowed drunkenly over the bluffs northwest of Sioux City. The plane slammed onto the runway and burst into a vast fireball. The rescuers didn’t move at first: nobody could possibly survive that crash. And then people began emerging from the summer corn that lined the runways. Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers lived.

No one has ever attempted the complete reconstruction of a crash of this magnitude. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, crew, and airport and rescue personnel, Laurence Gonzales, a commercial pilot himself, captures, minute by minute, the harrowing journey of pilots flying a plane with no controls and flight attendants keeping their calm in the face of certain death. He plumbs the hearts and minds of passengers as they pray, bargain with God, plot their strategies for survival, and sacrifice themselves to save others.

Ultimately he takes us, step by step, through the gripping scientific detective work in super-secret labs to dive into the heart of a flaw smaller than a grain of rice that shows what brought the aircraft down.

An unforgettable drama of the triumph of heroism over tragedy and human ingenuity over technological breakdown, Flight 232 is a masterpiece in the tradition of the greatest aviation stories ever told.


My Thoughts

A tiny pit, a cavity, a fatal flaw

Flight 232 is a remarkable and intensive story of the astonishing crash of a DC-10 at Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. That anyone survived is a miracle. You meet the crew and passengers–in striking detail–before, during, and after the devastation. The author even painstakingly interviewed them decades later, after they’d sorted memories and how it affected their lives afterwards. Remarkable also was the way streams of prepared rescuers and experts zeroed in to Sioux City to help, to rush survivors to the hospital, to set up a morgue, to begin trying to discover just what had happened.

How things were handled that day, and days after, have influenced today’s disaster response plans. The author even followed the metallurgical path of the titanium that ultimately was the source of the tiny flaw which caused the calamity. A fitting tribute to a shocking corner of history.

My husband, a retired air traffic controller, also recommends this “story of disaster and survival.”




  1. Flight 232 was saved by a dead-head pilot, a flight instructor who was riding as a passenger – but who had experience controlling a commercial jet using variable power from the engines. Interestingly enough, the day before the recent fatal crash of a Lion Air 737 Max, a jump-seat pilot know enough to suggest switching off the MCAS system and save the plane. That bit of information was not relayed to the next crew, who crashed.

    • Yes, there were four in that cockpit during the crash. The rescuers didn’t expect any of them to get out of that pod alive, and yet all four did. After learning how defensive the aviation people were about that crash, I was afraid the second 737 Max crash had a lot to do with the same thing.

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