Al Haynes was credited with saving 184 lives, but up to his death Sunday in Seattle at age 87, he continually shrugged off the label of hero. Haynes—the pilot of United Airlines Flight 232, which crash-landed in Iowa on July 19, 1989, killing 112 of 296 passengers and crew—heaped praise on his co-pilots and crew members even as his quick thinking and calm demeanor were celebrated around the country, reports the Des Moines Register. He'd been flying a DC-10 jet from Denver to Chicago when the plane experienced a failure of its tail-mounted engine some 75 miles north of Sioux City. Many flight controls were lost as shrapnel cut hydraulic lines. But Haynes and crew members kept the plane in the air, alternating thrust to both engines, for more than 40 minutes until reaching Sioux City's Gateway Airport.
The plane's right wing broke off in the crash landing, "causing the fuselage to cartwheel in a fiery ball," tells the Sioux City Journal. Still, nearly 200 people lived. Haynes, who served as a Marine aviator before joining United Airlines in 1956, later acknowledged "it should have been a non-survivable crash," per the Register. Indeed, no pilot could maintain control of the plane when the incident was recreated in flight simulators, reports CNN. But Haynes always emphasized the team effort. "He was the most humble man I've ever met in my life," says Gary Brown, emergency management director in Woodbury County at the time of the crash. Haynes retired in 1991 but "worked tirelessly over the next three decades to help prevent future air disasters," per the Journal. "His legacy will endure," United Airlines says in a statement. (Russia celebrated its own version of "Sully" the pilot after a dramatic landing.)