On the Heels of ‘Flight,’ Remembering My Encounter With Real-Life Hero Denny Fitch

Last week, I saw “Flight,” the critically acclaimed movie starring Denzel Washington. He portrays an airline pilot who, although in the throes of addiction, does a remarkable job of landing a severely stricken plane and saving most of those aboard.

The film brought to mind Denny Fitch. Excepting the drug-and-alcohol demons that beset Washington’s character, Mr. Fitch played a similar real-life role role in 1989 when he helped crash-land a United Airlines plane after the DC-10 was doomed by an engine explosion.

Earlier this year, I was saddened to learn that nearly 23 years after he helped save 183 other souls, Mr. Fitch passed away.

From the time I began writing stories at the age of 15, one of the most exhilirating rewards of journalism was the access it provided to meeting and writing about fascinating people. That includes true heroes like Denny Fitch.

In 1991, I had the good fortune of meeting him and his wife, GeneAnn, after I reached out to them to write a story that was part of my “Where Are They Now?” feature for The Courier News in Elgin, Ill.

More than 20 years later, reflecting on my visit to their home in Bartlett, I can still recall the traits that emanated so strongly from this unassuming couple: warmth, humility and sincere Christian faith.

As this year draws to a close, media outlets and others will turn to the challenging task of drawing the line on whom to note on their list of key figures we lost over the course of 2012.

Here are my two cents: Denny Fitch, whose impact only begins to echo in the lives of those who survived Flight 232, would be a most fitting inclusion.

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