Dennis D. Nielsen, Col USAF, Ret., “Headed West” on September 23, 2023.

Dennis Nielsen, Flight 232 first responder, Air National Guard member, dies
By Dean Welte
Published: Nov. 2, 2023 at 7:43 PM EDT

(KTIV) – Dennis Nielsen, whose rescue efforts during Flight 232 became a symbol of Siouxland’s spirit in the face of tragedy, has died. KTIV confirmed his death with Gary Brown, the former Woodbury County Emergency Services Director. Nielsen was 76-years-old. Brown said Nielsen died on Sept. 23 at a North Carolina hospital.

The crash of United Airlines Flight 232 happened at Sioux City Gateway Airport back on July 19, 1989. The captain of the flight, Al Haynes, and his crew managed to give first responders 30 minutes notice before their plane attempted to land at the airport. That gave dozens of local rescue crews time to get to the airport.

The disintegration of the fan in the tail engine cut all of the plane’s hydraulic lines. So, the crew had to use the throttles on the two remaining engines to guide the plane to Sioux Gateway. During the landing one of the plane’s wings dipped and touched the tarmac, resulting in the crash. But thanks to the actions of the crew, and Siouxland’s first responders, 184 of the 296 people on board the plane survived the crash.

One of those responders was Lt. Colonel Dennis Nielsen from the Iowa Air National Guard. During the rescue, Sioux City Journal photographer Gary Anderson took a picture of Nielsen carrying an unconscious 3-year-old, Spencer Bailey, to medical personnel. The photo became one of the symbols of Flight 232 and of the responders who worked to save the lives of those onboard.

A statue of Nielsen carrying Bailey to safety was erected in Sioux City’s Chris Larsen Park. The bronze statue is part of a Flight 232 Memorial at the riverfront.

Nielsen was a Shelby, Iowa, native and was part of the Sioux City community for many years after Flight 232 and helped found the Tri-State Disaster Committee. In 2002, Nielsen retired and moved to North Carolina.

“I first met Denny Nielsen after the crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, where we were both members of the Iowa Air National Guard. A media picture of Denny carrying a young crash survivor became symbolic of the entire rescue effort, and that picture became the basis for the powerful statue which now stands in Sioux City as a tribute to all who answered the call to serve that day. Denny did not welcome the attention of the press or the public, and he would bristle at the title of “hero.” But that picture, and statue, captured what Denny embodied that July day in 1989–what so many admired in Denny -a commitment to do one’s duty, even in the most difficult circumstances.”

Statement from Gregory Clapper, a retired chaplain for the USAF who served at the 185th.

Source: KTIV

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