30 years ago: Northwest Flight 255 crashes after takeoff from Detroit Metro Airport

The crash left 156 dead

DETROIT - It's one of the worst aviation disasters in U.S. history.

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

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The flight was headed to California when it left the gate in Detroit. The DC-9 Super 82 pilots forgot to conduct their pre-flight checks, as a result, the warning system never turned on.

This lead to the plane's wing flaps failing to extend prior to takeoff. As the plane rushed down the runway, it lifted only 40 feet off the ground.

See more about Flight 255 crash: 

The plane hit lampposts and a rental-car office. It then crashed onto Middlebelt Road and struck vehicles, killing two people on the ground.

The plane began to break apart, bursting into flames as it hit a railroad and an overpass on I-94. There was only one survivor from the crash, 4-year-old Cecelia Cichan. (See interviews with her below)

As of 2013, the crash is the fourth-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history.

The victims of the crash included NBA player Nick Vanos, seven people from Orange County, California and a four-month old baby from Arizona. More than 30 of the passengers were under 25.

A black granite memorial was built in 1994 to commemorate the victims. It sits at the top of a hill at Middlebelt Road and I-94.

As of 2014, Northwest, now owned by Delta, continues the retirement of 255 as a flight number.

The NTSB Investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board conducted a full investigation of the crash.

Their final report was released in May, 1988, which blamed the pilot for the crash.

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 that 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.

You can check out the full NTSB report below:

The Victims of the Crash

The flight crew and all but one passenger were killed instantly.

Seven were from Orange County, California, and the remainder were from Arizona, Michigan or other states.

Nick Vanos, a 24-year-old center for the Phoenix Suns, was killed. The Northwest hangar at the airport served as a temporary morgue.

WATCH: 1988 WDIV Special Report on Flight 255 with Mort Crimm

More than 30 of the passengers were under the age of 25; two 12-year-olds were unaccompanied minors.

The flight's captain, John R. Maus, was an experienced pilot with 31 years of experience with the airline. The flight's first officer, David J Dodds, had logged more than 8,000 hours of flying in his career. Other pilots described the two as "competent and capable."

The crash is the seventh worst aviation accident in U.S. history. 

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