Northwest Airlines Flight 255: Wikis


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Northwest Flight 255
Accident summary
Date August 16, 1987
Type Pilot error
Site Romulus, Michigan (western Detroit suburb - 25 miles (40 km) away)
Passengers 149
Crew 6
Injuries 6, including 5 on ground
Fatalities 156, including 2 on ground
Survivors 1
Aircraft type McDonnell Douglas MD-82
Operator Northwest Airlines
Tail number N312RC
Flight origin Tri-City Airport
Stopover Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
Last stopover Sky Harbor International Airport
Destination John Wayne Airport

Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was a flight that originated at MBS International Airport in Saginaw, Michigan, 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 Romulus 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.[1]


Aircraft and crew

The aircraft was a twin-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-82 with FAA tail number N312RC. Northwest 255 was carrying 149 passengers and 6 crew.


Flight 255 began its takeoff roll, but was never able to achieve liftoff and stalled as it tried to lift off the runway. It rolled about 40 degrees to the left, struck a light pole near the end of the runway with its left wing, struck the roof of a car rental building, and crashed into the I-94 expressway, colliding with several vehicles and light poles.[1]

Passenger injuries and fatalities

The lone survivor of the aircraft was four-year-old Cecelia Cichan of Tempe, Arizona.[2] Cecelia Cichan's mother, Paula Cichan, died in the crash, along with her father, Michael, and her 6-year-old brother, David. After the crash, Cecelia Cichan lived with relatives in Birmingham, Alabama, who shielded her from public attention.[3]

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. Fatalities were moved to a hangar at the airport functioning as a temporary morgue.


The NTSB 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 and slats 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. The NTSB was unable to determine why there was an electrical power failure to the CAWS.

"The failure of the takeoff warning system was caused by the loss of input 28V dc. electric power between the airplane’s left dc. bus and the CAWS unit. The interruption of the input power to the CAWS occurred at the P-40 circuit breaker. The mode of interruption could not be determined."

Specifically, the NTSB could not determine if the circuit breaker had been tripped, intentionally opened, or if electrical current failed to flow through that circuit breaker to the CAWS while the breaker remained closed.

"Because the P-40 circuit breaker was badly damaged during the accident, it was impossible for the Safety Board to determine positively its preimpact condition. There were three possible conditions that would have caused power to be interrupted at the P-40 circuit breaker: the circuit breaker was intentionally opened by either the flightcrew or maintenance personnel, the circuit breaker tripped because of a transient overload and the flightcrew did not detect the open circuit breaker, or the circuit breaker did not allow current to flow to the CAWS power supply and did not annunciate the condition by tripping." [Pg. 53 of the report]

21 years later, Spanair Flight 5022 crashed in Madrid airport due to incorrect flap settings. Coincidentally, 154 people also died in this accident which involved the same aircraft type as NW 255. [4]

In remembrance

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 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.[5]

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.

Flight 255 is featured in Season 7 of National Geographic's show, Air Crash Investigation.


See also

External links

Coordinates: 42°14′24″N 83°19′40″W / 42.2400°N 83.3277°W / 42.2400; -83.3277



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