Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was a flight that originated in Saginaw, Michigan, United States's MBS International Airport and was scheduled to terminate at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, with intermediate stops at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Michigan, near Detroit and at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. The flight crashed after takeoff in Detroit on August 16, 1987, at about 20:46 EDT (8:46 p.m. local time, 00:46 UTC August 17), killing all of the crew and passengers except for a 4-year-old girl, Cecelia Cichan, who sustained serious injuries, according to a report by the FAA's Office of Aviation Research
Aircraft and crew
The aircraft was a twin-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-82
with FAA tail number . Northwest 255 was carrying 149 passengers and 6 crew.
Flight 255 began its takeoff rotation from 1,200 to 1,500 feet (366-457 m) from the Detroit runway's end. During the initial climb, the plane rolled about 35 degrees in each direction. The left wing struck a light pole about ½ mile (800 m) from the end of the runway, struck other light poles, the roof of a car rental building, and then the ground. The aircraft continued skidding across the ground on the runway centerline near I-94
Passenger injuries and fatalities
The lone survivor of the aircraft was four-year-old Cecelia Cichan of Tempe, Arizona
. Cecelia Cichan's mother, Paula Cichan died in the crash, along with Cecelia's father, Michael Cichan, and her 6-year-old brother, David Cichan. After the crash, Cecelia Cichan-Lumpkin lived with relatives in Birmingham, Alabama
, who shielded her from public attention. She graduated from the University of Alabama
in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
in the spring of 2006 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.
One of the passengers on Northwest 255 who died was Nick Vanos, a center for the Phoenix Suns basketball team. Two motorists on nearby Middlebelt Road were also killed. Five other persons on the ground were injured, one seriously. A memorial marker was erected. Fatalities were moved to a hangar at the airport functioning as a temporary morgue.
probable cause statement is as follows: "The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the flightcrew's failure to use the taxi checklist to ensure the flaps
were extended for takeoff. Contributing to the accident was the absence of electrical power to the airplane takeoff warning system which thus did not warn the flightcrew that the airplane was not configured properly for takeoff. The reason for the absence of electrical power could not be determined."
The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) provided the evidence regarding the flightcrew omission of the taxi checklist. The stall warning was annunciated. Using the CVR the investigators determined that the aural takeoff warning was not annunciated. There was an electrical failure due to a circuit breaker being tripped, but post-accident testing did not reveal a malfunction of the circuit breaker.
In memory of the victims, a black granite memorial
stands at the top of the hill surrounded by blue spruce trees at Middlebelt Road and Interstate 94
, the site of the Detroit crash. The memorial has a dove with a ribbon in its beak saying "Their spirit still lives on..." and below it are the names of those who perished in the crash.
A monument to the victims of the crash, many of whom were from the Phoenix Area, stands next to Phoenix City Hall in downtown Phoenix.
On August 16, 2007, the twentieth anniversary of the crash, a memorial service was held at the Detroit crash site. For some of the people affected by the incident, it was the first time they had returned to the site since the crash.