Unforgettable tragedy: Flight 255 first responder heals through music, faith

DETROIT – A first responder on the scene of the tragic 1987 crash of Northwest Flight 255 has released a song about the life-changing day.

Andy Graves, then a paramedic with Huron Valley Ambulance, arrived on the scene that day, Aug. 16, 1987. He spent hours at the site, checking on each of the people who died in the crash.

On August 16, 1987, Northwest Flight 255 crashed shortly after taking off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, killing 156 people.

READ: Northwest Flight 255 crashes after takeoff from Detroit Metro Airport

Graves has found a way to express his emotions and remember the tragedy in a positive way.

“It was very overwhelming,” Graves said. “There’s nothing that can prepare you for that kind of event.”

At the time, Graves was 21-years-old and was just two years into his career as a first responded.

On the way to the scene, Graves and his crew were cautioned about how many victims there could be.

“The first thing we came across was a car that had been struck by the plane and that was the first casualty,” Graves said. “That person was not savable.”

The first responders kept walking and searching.

“Just checking every victim, trying to find someone we could save,” Graves said. “It became apparent pretty quickly there was no one we could save.”

Working the crash took its toll on the emergency crews. Event with counseling and therapy that began the day after the crash.

“It has been with me every day for 32 years,” Graves said. “And for about 20 years I really struggled with PTSD and depression -- particularly around the anniversary of the crash.”

On the 20th anniversary, Graves turned a corner after attending the memorial for the first time. In addition to building positive memories, his musical background also helped him get through the tragedy.

READ: First responder to 1987 crash of Flight 255 releases song about tragic day

Graves, now a part of the Michigan-based Contemporary Christian rock and pop band Pivotal Awakening with singer and songwriter Mindi Odom, released a song titled, “August Rain."

Graves wrote the song years ago from the perspective of a first responder, but he didn’t feel like it worked. With Odom, they approached the topic from the perspective of hope, healing and faith.

The song has been very well received by the victims’ families and by people who have no idea what it’s really about.

Listen to the song from Pivotal Awakening below:

About the Authors:

Jason is Local 4’s utility infielder. In addition to anchoring the morning newscast, he often reports on a variety of stories from the tragic, like the shootings at Michigan State, to the off-beat, like great gas station food.

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.