“Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232”

I first went to Japan in the summer of 1989. One of my memories from that trip is what happened on my flight, or rather just before the flight, from Sapporo to Tokyo. As I wrote in greater length in a post about about some of my flying experiences, before take-off the news was shown and the main news was video footage of United Airlines flight 232 crash in Sioux City on 19 July. It is perhaps fitting in some way, then, that for my research for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, that it includes Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232 (also known as A Thousand Heroes) (Lamont Johnson, 1992), which is based upon the events surrounding the Sioux City crash, as the summary on IMDb points out.

Authentic drama of United Airlines flight 232 from Denver to Chicago. The DC-10 crashed during an emergency landing at Sioux City Gateway Airport on July 19, 1989. 184 people survived, partly thanks to the ground rescue workers who had 40 minutes to prepare for the event. 


In that summary, as I noted in my article, is one of the biggest issues that I have with the dramatization: the focus is on the survivors. The alternative title of the dramatization focuses on the ‘heroes’ and the summary solely mentions the 184 survivors. The 112 people who lost their lives seem to be overlooked. As my study found, there is a preference in English-language disaster movies (compared to Japanese ones) for their to be hope and, ultimately, a happy ending.

My interest in the Sioux City crash is not limited to the dramatization. In conducting my research about the JL123 crash that I learnt that there was a link between UA232 and JL123 – one of those on board UA232 had read a report about how the pilot of JL123 kept the plane flying for so long after losing hydraulics (see Wikipedia article) and this technique was used by the cockpit crew and helped ensure that not all lives were lost.

In relation to my research about public transportation accident memorials, as I discuss in the article, I found that there were many cases in the USA (unlike in Europe and even more so in Japan) where there appears to be no memorial at all (see also my discussion about those accidents where there are memorials – such as AA Flight 587 as TWA Flight 800). While there is a memorial for UA232, an article in July 2020 suggests that it is need of repairs.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, the movie has 13 out of the 17. Interestingly, it was one of the English-language disaster movies studied that didn’t show panic – showing, instead, in particular how calmly the cockpit crew, and those on the ground, handled the situation. Despite my comments above about the focus of the movie, it is very well put together and worth watching.

Update (23 July 2021): Take To The Sky Podcast has done an episode about UA232 – you can find it here, there will be a second episode soon.

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