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Remembering United Flight 232
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Iowans will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the most horrific tragedy in Iowa aviation history on Saturday. It was on that day in 1989 that United Flight 232 blew an engine and crashed at the Sioux City, Sioux Gateway Airport.
Cedar Rapids Peter Teahen will never forget the crash. He was there in the aftermath, helping with disaster response.
It was one of the most unique aviation disasters. For 45 minutes, people knew something bad was going to happen, Teahen said.
It was July 18, 1989. 112 people died. It was the first major disaster that then 36-year-old Cedar Rapids funeral director, Teahen, responded. Eventually he helped families through the tragedy. He remembers helping one mother vividly. He could only provide her a scrap of fabric to identify her two-year-old son, Evan, the youngest passenger on the flight.
I came home with nightmares and night sweats, the same nightmare over and over again, of standing in the middle of the runway with his body draped over my arms. Which never occurred, except in my dreams. (I was) screaming at the top of my voice, God help me, I dont know what to do with him, Teahen said.
Yet, despite the destruction, 185 people survived.
Out of the smoke came a couple of ladies and a couple of kids walking towards us, almost immediately, and its like where did these people come from? Gary Brown, The Emergency Management Coordinator for Woodbury County said.
It was a day, a tragedy, that shaped Teahen's life. Since then he's provided disaster response during 47 major disasters including the Oklahoma City Bombing, Hurricane Katrina and 9-11.
He also serves as the National American Red Cross Spokesperson.
Teahan has spent the past 25 years since the disaster advocating for mental health care for disaster responders. He says 35 percent of them, including himself, experience PTSD. Thats twice the number of Vietnam Vets that suffer from PTSD. Before Teahen could help others, following the Flight 232 crash, he had to learn how to help himself.
You go down this deep tunnel of life and finally, as I got into the mental health aspect and discovered that instead of being ashamed of feeling that way and having that young child impact my life, that I wear the spirit of that child as a badge of honor, that I allowed another human being to touch me, Teahen said of dealing with his PTSD. He said there was a point where he contemplated suicide. He explained that in 1989, responders didnt have the mental health support to process the tragedy.
Now Teahen is a mental health diplomat, working to support disaster responders and teach others how to help them. He teaches masters and doctoral counselors at the University of Iowa. He also advocates for support for victims families. In 1996, the government passed the Federal Aviation Assistance Act.
It started the evolution in United Flight 232. It was one of the things I was very proud of in how we started the process in how families are cared for in aviation disasters, Teahen said.
Now, 25 years after the crash of Flight 232, he's still motivated by the memory of a little boy that didnt make it.
I dedicated 25 years to really the lessons learned in 232 and the lessons this young child taught me. Through my life, hopefully I give value to his life, Teahen said.
Teahen started a non-profit in Evans honor called. Evans Light.
Programs are planned all weekend in Sioux City to honor responders, those who died and the survivors of flight 232.