Denny Fitch, Sioux City Flight 232 Throttle Man Dies


Denny Fitch, the off-duty United Airlines DC-10 instructor who worked the throttles in the crash landing of Flight 232 at Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989, died of brain cancer on May 7. Fitch, along with 184 others, survived in a legendary feat of airmanship credited with initiating the now-standard concept of crew resource management. “Nobody had a right to walk away from that,” Fitch told the Sioux City Herald just after the accident, in which 111 people died. Fitch was deadheading from United’s training center in Denver to his home near Chicago when he heard the bang that signaled shards of turbine blades on the tail-mounted No. 2 engine slicing through lines supplying all three hydraulic systems on the aircraft. As the engine shook itself to a final smoking death, the only controls left were the power settings for the wing-mounted engines. After reassuring a flight attendant that everything would be all right, Fitch headed for the cockpit.

He arrived to find a crew working desperately to save an aircraft that had no business flying and took the only seat available, on the floor behind the throttle quadrant, and began figuring out what he could do. It wasn’t much but the four pilots found they could keep the aircraft under control in a right turn that they broadened for 40 minutes as they headed for the closest available airport in Sioux City. It likely would have looked like a Slinky on FlightAware. Against tremendous odds (no one was able to duplicate the feat on simulators afterward) they got lined up for the runway. The right wing dug in and the plane tore apart but there’s never been any question that the crew’s skill led to the luck that allowed more than half the people on board to survive. It’s something that guided Fitch’s life as a line pilot and motivational speaker from that point. “He couldn’t pass me without hugging me or telling me how much he loved me,” Rosa Fitch, a flight attendant on the airplane who became his second wife after his first wife also died of brain cancer, told The New York Times.