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updated: 7/9/2013 5:38 PM

Air crash survivor talks to Schaumburg group about lessons learned

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  • Jeff Miller, owner of Divine Signs in Schaumburg and survivor of the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in July 1989, talks about what it was like that day at the Schaumburg Business Association breakfast on Tuesday.

       Jeff Miller, owner of Divine Signs in Schaumburg and survivor of the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in July 1989, talks about what it was like that day at the Schaumburg Business Association breakfast on Tuesday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Audience members look at photos of a United Airlines plane crash from July 1989 as survivor Jeff Miller, owner of Divine Signs in Schaumburg, talks about escaping the plane without a scratch.

       Audience members look at photos of a United Airlines plane crash from July 1989 as survivor Jeff Miller, owner of Divine Signs in Schaumburg, talks about escaping the plane without a scratch.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Reema Amin
ramin@dailyherald.com

It was pure coincidence that Jeff Miller, survivor of a July 1989 Iowa plane crash that killed 111 people, was invited to speak at a Schaumburg Business Association meeting just three days after the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco.

Association President Kaili Harding said she planned this year's events in December 2012, so the recent crash landing, which killed two Chinese teens, was not the reason Miller was invited.

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She said Miller's story of survival would inspire members to rethink their outlook on not just their business lives, but their whole beings.

Founder and president of Schaumburg business Divine Signs, Miller said during the event that his original flight to Chicago that day was canceled. Instead, he chose to take United Airlines Flight 232 to Chicago over another because he thought he'd get a better lunch on the DC-10 plane.

While enjoying his fried chicken meal, he spent the flight reading a book and writing a eulogy for his grandfather's funeral -- the reason he was flying.

When he heard an explosion, Miller said he thought it was a bomb but was slightly comforted when one of the pilots announced that the engine blew.

"I just kept reading my book," he said. "A plane can fly on just one engine."

But shrapnel from the engine blast punctured the plane's hydraulic lines, meaning the pilots no longer had control of the plane.

As the flight dove, passengers were instructed to bend over and grab their ankles as a safety procedure.

A man who helped train others to fly DC-10s just happened to be on the airline, Miller said, and he helped the two pilots get the plane on the ground at an Iowa airport.

The plane plummeted, hit the runway and did a cartwheel before spliting in three, sending Miller's section 7,000 feet down the runway into a nearby cornfield.

As he showed photos of the explosion and remains of the plane, he explained how he was one of 13 passengers out of a total 296 who were left unscathed.

"I didn't have a hair out of place," he said, adding that he even got his luggage back.

That crash killed 111 people and injured 172.

The unlikely circumstances -- how he changed his seat at the last minute, that he was one of a handful who were uninjured, that there was a training pilot on the flight -- he took as "divine signs" that inspired the name of his business in 2003.

And along with renewing his religious faith, Miller said the greatest lesson he learned was forgiveness. He advised the audience to "let go and move on" from grudges that keep you from old friends, family or even business partners. In his eyes, that keeps people from simply being happy.

"When you're holding your ankles at 30,000 feet in the air, you become acutely aware of what's important and what's not," he said.

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