2004-10-18 00:29:48 UTC
Passengers called Malburn McBroom a hero for landing United Flight
173, but he always regretted the deaths of eight
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Decembers were tough for Malburn "Buddy" McBroom.
"A little heavy, emotionally," is the way the former United Airlines
pilot put it.
McBroom died Oct. 9 in Colorado at age 77.
Eight of McBroom's 189 passengers and two of his crew died Dec. 28,
1978, when McBroom steered United Flight 173 from Denver into a patch
of darkness at Northeast 157th Avenue and East Burnside Street.
McBroom and his crew were trying to overcome a problem with the
plane's landing gear when it ran out of fuel and crashed before
reaching Portland International Airport.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation later blamed
McBroom for not paying enough attention to the fuel supply during the
landing gear crisis. He lost the airline transport pilot rating that
allowed him to fly commercial passenger jets.
Although many survivors believed McBroom's flying ultimately saved
their lives and avoided any deaths on the ground, the accident
shattered him. He believed the plane's fuel gauges were unreliable,
but he continued to feel responsible decades later -- a sense of shame
that refreshed itself each winter.
"The fact that I lost some people and destroyed the airplane -- it's
painful," McBroom said in an interview before attending a 1998 reunion
of crash survivors.
Childhood dream of flying
Although born to poor sharecroppers in Bonham, Texas, McBroom had
always dreamed of flying, said one of his children, Carrie McBroom
Jacobsen of Seattle. Jacobsen's grandmother said that as a child, he
saw a performance by traveling barnstormers, looked at her and said, "
'I'm going to fly airplanes, Mom.' "
He joined the Navy in his midteens and served on a submarine in the
South Pacific during World War II. Afterward, he learned to fly on the
During heady years as a young pilot, he married four times and
fathered six children. In the early 1960s, he married his fourth wife
and moved his family to Colorado. From the air, he fell in love with
Boyd Lake and began building a lakefront neighborhood, naming the
streets in honor of his mother and daughters.
The family's happiness was shattered first when McBroom's son, Dan,
was seriously injured in a Vietnam mine explosion, and later by the
It wasn't just McBroom's injuries, which included a broken leg,
shoulder and ribs, and lifelong nerve damage. It was his sense that he
had failed in a pilot's most important responsibility: taking care of
his passengers. He considered suicide but ultimately could not do it
to his family, he said.
Even bags of appreciative mail from Portland didn't help.
Within three years, McBroom and his wife separated, although they
remained married. The depositions and court cases related to the crash
lasted seven years.
McBroom worked for United until his retirement and continued to try
his hand at development. But "it never seemed like he had a clear path
after flying," his daughter said.
Reunion of survivors
At the reunion, many survivors felt that even if pilot error caused
the crash, "the choices he made about how to put the plane down were
lifesaving for people on the ground and people on the plane," said
passenger Aimee Ford Conner, who organized the event. "What I really
wound up feeling for him was a great deal of empathy and sorrow."
After the reunion, "I remember him saying he could do a better job of
letting it go," Jacobsen said. "It was easier to put it down."
In recent years, battling ill health from prostate and lung cancer,
McBroom sometimes returned to flying in his mind, telling his wife he
had to attend a pilots union meeting, or refusing a hospital oxygen
mask "because it hadn't been certified by United Airlines," Jacobsen
"I hope he's at peace now, truly at peace," said passenger Mary Clare
Deveny of Gresham, who recalled how McBroom gently showed her and her
husband how to hold and wrap their oldest son, then 2, before the
crash. "We never, ever, ever blamed him. We always knew he had done
the best he could."
McBroom is survived by his mother, six children, five grandchildren
and seven great-grandchildren. Jacobsen is arranging an Oct. 29
memorial service in Loveland, Colo. Condolences and messages can be
sent to ***@comcast.net.