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Flight 232 & Survival Stories

Date: 07-10-14
Host: George Noory
Guests: Laurence Gonzales, Robert Golka

Award-winning author and journalist Laurence Gonzales discussed his work researching the 1989 crash of United Airlines Flight 232, and the incredible stories of those who survived this deadly disaster. He was drawn to the intense drama of the incident, with passengers exhibiting feats of heroism, and caring for people they didn't even know. The DC-10 flight bound for Chicago suffered catastrophic engine failure which led to the loss of flight controls, but somehow the pilots and a DC-10 flight instructor who happened to be a passenger, managed to crash land the plane at the Sioux City, Iowa airport.

Upon landing, the right wing of the jet hit concrete, and about 10,000 pounds of fuel ignited, with the tail snapping off and rocketing down the runway at 250mph, he recounted. Amazingly, of the 296 aboard, 184 people survived. One survivor, seated in the second row, said that when the plane hit, his seat belt popped open and he found himself watching the plane disintegrate as he began to float. "He went flying through the air...like Superman, and his feet went through the fireball as he was flying, and he flew hundreds of yards and landed in a cornfield," Gonzales reported. When the plane finally came to rest, it was upside down in the cornfield, and many of the survivors who escaped found themselves wandering amongst 9ft. tall plants. Some were so disoriented by the surreal scene, they thought they had died and gone to an afterlife, he said.

Gonzales was impressed by accounts of human resilience and compassion. One man noticed that a woman was holding down her baby during the crash, but the child flew away upon impact. After he exited the plane, he heard a baby crying, and went back into the burning craft and rescued an infant who was inside an overhead bin beneath his feet (the plane was upside down). The child turned out be someone else's baby, not the one he was trying to rescue (subsequently, chief flight attendant Jan Brown spearheaded a campaign to have infants properly restrained in their own seat, rather than held in a parent's lap). The crash affected the survivors in different ways, leaving all with some emotional residue, but some continue to suffer from PTSD to this day, he revealed.

Ball Lightning

First hour guest, research scientist Robert Golka shared reports of mysterious ball lightning, and how the phenomena relates to physics. He defined ball lightning as a discharge from when lightning strikes the ground, and it somehow rolls up and becomes a stable structure of ionized particles that last up to a minute, in various sizes and colors. "The amazing thing is it floats around, and can go against the wind," which seems to defy the model of plasma physics, he remarked. For more, check out this collection of YouTube videos featuring Golka's research.

News segment guests: Craig Hulet, Scott Stevens

Related Material

Crash of Flight 232
Crash of Flight 232
7/10/14 guest Laurence Gonzales has reconstructed the events of the 1989 crash of United Airlines Flight 232, in which the plane slammed into a runway and burst into a fireball. Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers survived. Pictured: Search crews investigate the wreckage. Watch a video of the crash.

Bumper Music

Bumper music from Thursday July 10, 2014

  • Suzie Q
    Creedence Clearwater Revival

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