As I write this, it has been less than 24 hours since the family of Capt. Al Haynes has announced his passing. Haynes was famously in command of United Flight 232 in the summer of 1989 when the DC-10 suffered a complete loss of hydraulic power after a fan blade on the number two (center) engine failed and caused the engine to disintegrate. Using differential thrust from the remaining two engines, the crew was able to exercise a modicum of control and bring the jumbo jet to a controlled crash in Sioux City, Iowa. While the accident resulted in 111 fatalities, 184 passengers and crew survived.
It didn’t take long for the stories about United’s cockpit resource management (CRM) training to make headline in the news. Historically, airline cockpits were run with concept of the captain being autocratically in charge, and there was no obligation to solicit input on anything from other pilots on the flight deck. It didn’t matter what their experience or perspective was. If the captain made a decision, that was it. Today, it’s hard to believe that such an environment not only existed, but was encouraged.
United was pushed into developing a CRM program from a previous accident involving a United aircraft. United Flight 173 crashed in Portland, Oregon, in 1978 after running out of fuel while the crew tried to troubleshoot a problem with the landing gear. The NTSB cited the crew’s inability to work together as a contributing factor to the accident. This accident followed the 1977 Tenerife collision between Pan Am and Lufthansa 747s, the worst aviation accident in history. With prodding from NASA, United began training its pilots on CRM, and eventually included the flight attendants as well.
I was fortunate enough to attend a few of Capt. Haynes’ presentations about the 232 accident. He readily acknowledged the value of the CRM training, and when asked if he or his crew could have been as effective without it, he quickly said, “I doubt it.” CRM encourages authority with participation by the captain, and assertiveness with respect by the remaining crew. In other words, captains are encouraged to solicit and genuinely consider input from other crew, and the first and second officers are encouraged to speak up when they see that something is wrong or unsafe.
In the years since, every U.S. airline has developed and implemented CRM training, and it often extends to dispatchers and mechanics as well. The Flight 232 accident has become a classic case study in numerous businesses and industries when it comes to dealing with time-critical, high-pressure emergency situations. Capt. Haynes was an early advocate for acceptance of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in noncombat traumatic events, because he openly discussed his own PTSD. He said giving his speech was the most effective method he had found for dealing with his PTSD and keeping it at bay.
The full effect and value of CRM was proven in the minutes after United Flight 232 suffered that engine failure. It has since been used to avert all sorts of incidents and accidents, large and small. Every pilot should be grateful for its inception, and they should definitely raise a toast to Capt. Haynes for his willing embrace and implementation of it in the summer of 1989.