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232 crash stirs vivid memories 25 years later

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Father Mark Duchaine recalled the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 as “a scene from hell.”

The priest, now a monsignor and vicar general of the Diocese of Sioux City, was one of 10 Sioux City priests who arrived minutes after United Airlines Flight 232 from Denver to Chicago crashed at the Sioux City airport, July 19, 1989, killing more than 100 people, yet several hundred survived.

“I had my (sacramental) oils and I knelt, prayed, anointed and absolved,” he said in a July 27, 1989 interview with The Globe. “You operate on automatic pilot. Your mind is numb. The redeeming grace was in how people came together.”

Father Marvin Boes of Sioux City retired as chaplain with the 185th Tactical Fighter Group in the Air National Guard in 1988.

One year later, he resumed his duties for the crash.

“Upon returning from out of town and checking my phone calls that evening, in addition to the call from the Air Guard, I had a call from the chancery office seeking my assistance in ministering to the victims and Jim Taylor from Catholic Charities to join them at Briar Cliff College to help with those staying there,” Father Boes recalled.

‘Being present with them’

Father Boes was just one of hundreds of Siouxland volunteers who helped with the needs associated with the crash and its aftermath.

“The 185th asked me to minister to their members who guarded the deceased at the crash scene and also those who accompanied the individual bodies through a processing line for identification and preparing the bodies for the funeral directors,” he recalled. “I went out to the base the next morning to help. It was a matter of being present with them and listening as they felt the need to share their experiences, seek my understanding, my spiritual and moral support and even guidance.”

It was no easy task, Father Boes emphasized.

“It was a personal challenge, but with the help of God, proved to be helpful to the individuals and rewarding to me,” he said. “I will never forget it.”

Father Don Ries, then pastor of St. Boniface Parish had been playing golf in South Sioux City when he saw the black smoke in the air.

“When we finished and went into the clubhouse, the crash was already on TV,” the now-retired priest said. “When I returned to St. Boniface, I had all kinds of messages to get to the airport.”

Father Ries witnessed survivors, each sitting on a blanket with their family units.

“I had the most interesting conversation with an Assembly of God preacher who had married a family member in Chicago and was returning to Denver,” he said. “When the plane crashed, he and others in his area were hanging upside down, so they had to drop down and make their way out. When he got out, he realized he still was holding his favorite Bible in his hand and he told me he felt so guilty that he had survived while others had not, that he turned around and threw the Bible back into the plane.”

Also in the midst of the tragedy were Dick and Pat Collins.

“Dick and I were both involved with Flight 232,” Pat said. “He was working with the 185th several days recovering debris and bringing bodies to the morgue. I worked in the morgue for 2.5 days. We also had a survivor staying with us until his family arrived to pick him up.”

Witnessing from afar

On the periphery of the action was Roxie Ullrich of Sloan.

“My friend, Julie Goodin, and I were returning to Sloan south on Interstate 29 from a grocery shopping trip in Sioux City, and we had our two young sons, Tony Ullrich and Justin Goodin, in the car with us,” she said. “Approaching Sergeant Bluff we saw a myriad of emergency vehicles on the overhead bridge near the airport. Julie and I thought maybe a car had gone off the bridge or worse yet, someone may have jumped.”

When the women arrived at home, they heard the news a plane had crashed at the airport, and that the pilot had considered putting the plane down on the interstate.

“We believe that angels were looking out for us and that God had a plan for those two boys, keeping the plane on the runway and not the interstate,” Ullrich said. “Today, Justin is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and Tony is a television news reporter.”

Also on the road that day was Molly Sokolowski of Sioux City.

“Driving down Pierce Street, on my way to an insurance office on Sergeant Road north of the Southern Hills Mall, I pulled over for several emergency vehicles headed to the interstate. I wondered about them but had a carload of kids so didn't think too much about it,” she related. “I quickly dropped off my insurance payment and headed back to the car. Just then a huge passenger plane flew low right over the mall heading to the airport. I pointed it out to the kids because it was so easy to see and we waved at it. Heading back home via Highway 75, a car with flashing lights whizzed past me heading south.”

Sokolowski had the radio on when National Public Radio interrupted its programming to announce there had been a plane crash at the airport in Sioux City.

“I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a huge plume of smoke coming from the airport area and knew instantly that it was from the plane I'd just shown the kids,” she said. “Our joy of seeing the plane quickly turned to the sad reality that there were people on it who were injured and dying and in need of prayer.”

At the hospital

In the midst of the crash aftermath was Sharon Poeckes of Remsen.

“I was on call and working in the operating room at Marian Health Center, now Mercy Medical Center,” she said. “All our surgical staff was at a picnic at Riverside Park.”

Poeckes called one of the staff to let them know about the plane crash and they thought she was joking.

“I told them to just look south and see the smoke,” she said. “All of the staff came in. We worked on injured clients all night and for many days later.”

Former Sioux Cityan Luann Fredericksen Gold, now residing in Waukee, Iowa, was also part of the health care response.

“I was working at Sioux Valley Credit Union (Teachers Credit Union) on Sixth Street, just up the road from Marian Health Center, when the crash occurred,” she said. “When I got home, I changed my clothes and went right back to the Blood Center where I stood in line for more than three hours to donate blood.”

Years later, Gold has kept in contact with people she met from that night.

“Pizza places donated pizza and pop, and the nursing students had an ‘assembly line’ to take pulses and temperatures,” she said. “I will never forget that afternoon and evening. The city really came together.”

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