UNC Charlotte student almost didn’t survive crash 25 years ago

Aaron Badis almost didn’t survive the crash of United Flight 232.

He was only 2 years old on July 19, 1989, and flying home with his family to Durham from Hawaii.

Aaron was sitting in row 17 with his mother, Ellen, while his father, Adrienne, and brother Eric, then 6, sat 11 rows behind them.

Aaron doesn’t remember the crash, but Eric recalls the smoke, shrapnel and fire when the plane hit the ground.

“I remember my dad getting me out of my seat and walking me out of the wrecked fuselage,” said Eric, 31, who lives in Ballantyne.

“He pulled out his driver’s license and said, ‘Son, I want you to hold on to this really tight. Don’t let go.’ We didn’t know if my mom and brother had survived.”

They had, but in the chaotic aftermath of the crash, Ellen was separated from Aaron. That’s when Bruce Benham, a 37-year-old restaurant executive from Denver, unbuckled Aaron and carried him through the gnarled wreckage to safety.

Ellen Badis didn’t know the man who saved her child until she turned on “Nightline” that night and saw Benham being interviewed. She sent him a thank-you card and a picture of Aaron. The photo still sits in Benham’s office.

They will see each other in Sioux City this weekend for the first time in 25 years at the Flight 232 memorial ceremony.

“I am looking so forward to seeing Aaron,” said Benham, now a 62-year-old real estate executive in Denver. “I believe it’ll be really healthy for him and me.”

Aaron’s 27 now and a student at UNC Charlotte. In his spare time, he said he’s training to become a pilot.

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