New play details the 1989 crash of United Flight 232

A new play details the 1989 crash of United Flight 232. Photos: Michael Brosilow/House Theater Chicago.

A new play details the 1989 crash of United Flight 232. Photos: Michael Brosilow/House Theater Chicago.

It is one of the better stories of heroic pilots in recent history. 

In July 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 flying from Denver to Chicago suffered a complete hydraulic failure, making it nearly impossible for pilots to control the DC-10. Somehow, they managed to direct the plane to Sioux City, Iowa, where they attempted an emergency landing. They failed to get the plane on the runway, and it crash landed. But they got close enough to avert complete disaster. There were 296 people on board, and 186 of them survived. 

If you follow aviation closely, you probably know about the incident. You likely even know about Capt. Alfred C. Haynes, who survived and became famous after the accident. 

United 232 is now back in the news for something unusual. There is a new play about the accident called "United Flight 232," and it recently premiered in Chicago at the House Theatre of Chicago. While I suspected aviation geeks would love the play, I was surprised to see that a critic for the Chicago Tribune gave it rave reviews, suggesting it might have broader appeal. 

"I have yet to recover from a visceral experience in the theater that is many things at once: deeply sad, inspiring, reorienting in terms of what is important in life, but nothing as intensely as a tribute to flight attendants, those noble, under-compensated workers of the skies who serve drinks to cramped, grumpy fliers for penny-pinching bosses while always taking the possibility of a crash very seriously indeed," the Tribune's Chris Jones wrote. 

The play is based on a book called "Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival," which is apparently also excellent. The author of that book, Laurence Gonzales, interviewed many survivors.

"Gonzales ... interview[ed] those grateful individuals for his exhaustive study of the experience of being on that DC-10 on that sunny day, when the airline was running a kids-fly-free promotion and the jet was full of children," Jones wrote. 

The play also receives a "highly recommended" review in the Chicago Sun-Times. Here's an excerpt. 

While “United Flight 232” is a tale of true horror, it is far from the traditional “disaster movie,” even if Stalling’s storytelling has a terrific cinematic quality. Employing self-narration, body movement and the simple but clever use of chairs, her nine superb actors — including Brenda Barrie, Echaka Agba, Alice da Cunha, Elana Eylce, Rudy Galvan, James Doherty, Johnny Arena, Kroydell Galima and Michael E. Martin — make the stage vibrate with tension and disorientation, and create a sense of the full passenger list

I had not been planning to see the play, but after this review, I might fly to Chicago.

Has anyone seen it? Or read the book?