DENVER — Twenty-five years ago this week, a United flight from Denver blew an engine and crash landed on an Iowa runway. The DC-10 caught fire and broke into pieces, killing 112 people.
But amazingly 184 survived.
FOX31 Denver recently tracked down one of those survivors — a Charlotte, North Carolina man who was just 2-years-old at the time of the crash — and we reunited him with the Denver businessman who pulled him from the wreckage, saving his life.
“To see him for the first time and to talk to him for the first time, and so forth, just sort of anxious,” said Bruce Benham, an executive with Denver-based RE/MAX, just as the Skype reunion was set to begin recently.
The two are almost total strangers.
They’ve only met each other one time, for about a minute, a quarter century ago.
But that single minute created a life-long bond. And technology, is reuniting them in a way only tragedy had before.
The last time Bruce Benham and Aaron Badis met, they were trapped in the middle of a burning airplane with just seconds to live.
Somewhere in the fire ball that was United flight 232, amid the acrid smoke and gnarled metal enveloping the Sioux City runway, Benham and that little boy were suspended upside down, on the cusp of being charred in a scorching 1800 degree fire.
“What do you remember about it? Because everything I’ve heard is kind of second hand, because I was too young to remember anything,” Badis asked Benham during their Skype chat.
“Well, it was real confusing of course, because of all the disaster that happened to the plane and we were upside down and it was smoky and scary. So I let myself out of my seat and I fell to the ceiling since we were upside down. I turned around and I saw you hanging out of your seat, and your mother was gone cause she’d gotten out of her seat and I think people had kind of pushed her. So I just grabbed you from your seatbelt and pulled you into my arms and said, ‘put your arms around my neck, put your head against mine and hold me real tight. We’re gonna get out of here,’” Benham told Badis.
And they did get out of there, fast.
Emerging miraculously uninjured, but suddenly surrounded by a sea of debris and death — the runway and nearby cornfield, covered in burning wreckage.
“And then as we got about 10 feet away from the plane,” Benham said. “I saw your mom because I remembered what she looked like, and I went over to her and handed you to her and said ‘you guys go, go. Get out of here.'”
They never even exchanged names.
Badis’ mom had no idea who that brave man was, who delayed his own exit, to save a stranger.
But then that night, Badis’ mom was watching coverage of the crash on TV and saw Benham being interviewed. She recognized him and sent Benham a thank you note with a picture of her son.
Benham has kept this photo in his Denver office for the last 25 years.
Badis is now a smiling, polite, 27-year old with a dream.
The young man, who almost lost his life in an airplane, now wants to spend the rest of his life in one. He’s training to be a pilot.
“I’m just really outgoing and adventurous and I just want to live life to the fullest, you know,” Badis said. “And not take any day for granted.”
That’s a lesson both of these men have learned since flight 232 — do what’s important to you now, because you never know when it might be too late.
“Twenty-five years is better than never and it’s just a great honor to be able to talk to you, means a lot to me, means a lot,” Benham told Badis.
“This really brings everything together and really gives me a better appreciation of what all the heroes did that day, including yourself,” Badis replied.
“What a wonderful opportunity for both of us,” Benham said. “I will never ever forget this. I can`t wait ‘til we meet in person.”
The two will meet in person this weekend, face-to-face for the first time in Sioux City at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of flight 232.
FOX31 Denver will be there too.
We’ll show you their reunion Sunday night as part of a FOX31 Denver news special about the crash, its youngest survivors and how their lives have changed.
“The Children of Flight 232” airs Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. right here on FOX31 Denver.