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Thirty years ago, on July 19, 1989, at 37,000 feet in the air, the titanium fan disk in the tail-mounted engine of United Airlines Flight 232—a DC-10 carrying 296 people from Denver to Chicago—exploded above the cornfields of Iowa. The spiraling debris punctured the aircraft and cut all of its hydraulics lines, making the jet nearly impossible to steer. The captain, Al Haynes, was left to somehow guide the vessel, its crew, and the passengers to the ground. Eventually, it was determined that the flight would make an emergency landing at Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, Iowa.

Spencer Bailey, now the co-host of Time Sensitive, was on that plane with his 36-year-old mom, Francie, and 6-year-old brother Brandon. They sat in the 33rd row. His fourth birthday was 30 days away. (His father, Brownell, and twin brother, Trent, were not on board.)

After a harrowing 44 minutes that included four swooping 360-degree turns, followed by a call from the cockpit to “brace” amidst howling sirens from the aircraft’s Ground Proximity Warning System, Flight 232 made contact with Runway 22. The tip of the right wing hit the ground, instantly igniting and quickly tearing off. The aircraft’s tail section ripped off, too, ejecting the bank of seats where Spencer, Brandon, and Francie sat. The rest of the plane broke into several pieces. The main section of the fuselage slowed to a stop, upside-down, in a cornfield.

One hundred eleven people, including Francie, died. One hundred eighty five, including Spencer and Brandon, survived.

On this special episode of Time Sensitive, Andrew Zuckerman speaks with Spencer, who shares his story of the crash and its aftermath.

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