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25 Years Later: The making of the movie "A Thousand Heroes"

25 years ago, Sioux City hosted the premiere of a made-for-TV movie about the tragic crash of United Flight 232.

It came out about two-and-a-half years after the crash.

Tonight we take a look back at that evening and the making of a movie that honored all of those involved that fateful day.

"232 roger. Ease the power back down."

More than 100 people died in that crash at the Sioux Gateway Airport in July of 1989.

But 185 others survived.

"Yea. We weren't even off the airfield yet and messages were being left at the office. People interested in making a movie. We were getting calls from Hollywood, New York, Atlantic City.," said then Director of Emergency Services, Gary Brown.

Gary Brown was among the many rescuers waiting on the ground.

Never realizing that he and other key figures from that day would eventually be portrayed by actors, like Richard Thomas who was Brown's character in a made-for-TV-movie called "A Thousand Heroes."

"He was really good to work with. He also had a a real passion for handicapped kids and mentally handicapped kids. So whenever we had extra time we would go to Goodwill, group homes, visit the hospitals. He really had a passion for doing that," Brown said.

That fact that most of the movie was made near the actual crash site, is also somewhat unusual.

Brown says, "And that was kind of a condition of our participation in the process. We wanted that opportunity to be made here."

The participation of local businesses, from hotels, to caterers, and craftsmen was invaluable.

"We helped them acquire a lot of the set decorations. Aircraft wreckage. Not 232 itself. But from a company that salvages wrecked airplanes. All that stuff," said George Lindblade.

And volunteers by the score served as extras and assisted in other ways.

Laurel, Nebraska native James Coburn was cast as the fire chief of the 185th Air National Guard, Jim Hathaway.

"James was just a simple person. He had real back arthritis in his hands . So that somewhat limited his capability of gripping things," said Brown.

And longtime star Charleton Heston was cast at 232's pilot Al Haynes, seen on the left.

"Charleton Heston and his family, his wife actually came with him for the premiere of the movie. And he was just a simple guy. He had a lot of requirements. He was one of those you had to shoot so many from this side and so many from this side. But they were very simple, very humble, very easy to get along with," Brown continued.

Brown says the movie makers, and Siouxlanders learned from each other.

Local makeup artists who'd helped set the scene in mach drills, helped their movie counterparts create realistic wounds and injuries.

"We learned how to make artificial smoke with a small engine. We learned a lot about special effects. Things that we could incorporate and use in our disaster drills going forward," Brown said.

The premiere, held that night before hundreds in the Riviera Theater served as a tribute to all involved in the story of United Flight 232 and the movie- makers who came to tell their story.

"The crew that came in to shoot this were really fun. They took it very seriously. The knew there had been a tremendous loss of life. So they were all quite sensitized to the feelings in the community and they were very respectful," said Brown.


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