In July 1989, United Flight 232 crashed in Sioux Falls, Iowa; 184 of the 296 passengers survived.
One of them was Jerry Schemmel, the Colorado Rockies radio announcer and a board member of the Arvada Colts baseball club.
Schemmel, who worked for the Continental Basketball Association at the time, was on his way from Denver to Chicago with his boss, Jay Ramsdell, who did not survive the crash.
“We were supposed to fly at 7 in the morning, and we took off at 12:45 in afternoon because our flight was canceled,” Schemmel said. “We could’ve easily gotten on that plane or any plane between then. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but I trust (God) that he did have it worked into the plan.”
Halfway to Chicago, one of the plane’s engines exploded and caused severe damage to the rear of the aircraft.
The plane flew nearly out of control in circles in the sky for 45 minutes after the explosion.
When the plane finally made its crash landing, it landed in a corn field at 255 mph, the passenger section tearing into several pieces.
After Schemmel got out of his seat, he found a way out of the wreckage and led other survivors out of the plane.
When he stepped into the cornfield himself, he heard a noise coming from inside the wreckage.
“I heard a baby crying in the back of the plane,” he said. “I just turned around and went back into the plane. I didn’t even think of it. I pulled the baby out from about row 29. She was a beautiful, 11-month-old girl, and she came out unscathed.”
During the crash, as the plane turned upside down, the baby ended up in the overhead storage bin, and the bin had shut and latched.
Schemmel and others helped the more seriously injured passengers until emergency crews arrived.
Survivors, including Schemmel, were then sent to the hospital to be treated for their injuries.
The next day Schemmel did something someone in a plane crash might not do. He got back on a plane.
“I felt like that was important,” he said. “It was important to get back on a plane again and take some of the fear away.”
A plane crash would be, for many, a life-changing experience. It was for Schemmel.
“Like everybody else, I had a really difficult time with post-traumatic stress, anger, depression and survivor’s guilt,” he said. “About a year after the crash, being unemployed, having a marriage that was hanging by a thread, in depression from the crash, I had nowhere else to turn. I had no spiritual foundation, so I turned to God, asked Jesus to come into my life and for relief. I invited Christ into my life as my lord and savior. Once I figured out that it’s never going to make sense, and I’ll never have the answers, it got easier after that. God has a plan for everybody. I would’ve written it differently, but I have faith in him.”
About three or four years after the accident, Schemmel began keeping a journal about his experiences, which he then turned into a book “Chosen to Live,” which was released in 1996.
Now, 23 years after the crash, Schemmel continues to share his story with others.
“I hope people look at (my story) and say life is precious and it can end at any time,” Schemmel said. “I want people to realize they can move from tragedy to triumph. When tragedy hits, it’s not the end of line. It doesn’t have to affect every decision you make. You can move on, you can realize dreams, you can reach goals, you can live a great productive life after tragedy.”
That is what he has done.
He has been involved in sports, either leisurely or professionally in some capacity, since he played baseball in college, and he is now the announcer for the Colorado Rockies on KOA Radio and a board member for the Arvada Colts.
Schemmel and Arvada Colts President Tommy Skul met when they were assistant baseball coaches at Metropolitan State College, now known as Metropolitan State University.
“I think it’s a fantastic organization, and I am very excited for them,” Schemmel said of the Colts. “Not many collegiate baseball teams are taken to this level, and there are not many in this area. They’ve taken it to a new marketing and ticket level that nobody has seen in this area. They’re so good in the community and such an asset.”
Schemmel is also the founder and president of CrossTrainer, a Christian-themed workout-clothing company.