Twenty-seven years ago today, the Northwest Airlines flight 255 crashed on take-off in Detroit, killing 154 people on board; the sole survivor was a four-year-old girl.
The flight was cleared for take-off at 20:44 on 16 August 1987. After an usually long take-off roll, the plane finally lifted off. However, the DC-9 never soared upward. The left wing clipped a lamp post in the rental car park about half a mile from the end of the runway. Hitting the ground, the plane started to break apart as it skidded along a road and it was almost immediately engulfed in flames. The death toll of 156 included two people in cars. Among the dead were the Phoenix Suns centre Nick Vanos. So, how did Cecelia Cichan (in Seat 8C) survive?
A list of fatalities was originally published in The Arizona Republic and has been reproduced online. The crash was remarkable for its ferocity even in the physics of air disasters. Cecelia was found by a paramedic who heard her moan and saw her arm twitch. The medical examiner for Wayne County in Michigan had no explanation for how she survived.
Cecelia suffered horrific injuries including a fractured skull, broken leg and collarbone and third-degree burns. She underwent four skin grafts for the burns on her arms and legs. She was released from hospital in October 1987 and lived with her aunt and uncle, Rita and Frank Lumpkin, in Alabama, where they shielded her from the media.
In an interview in 2012 with The Mirror, she said that the pain from her injuries had faded over time but she has a tattoo of an aeroplane on her left wrist to remind her of a tragedy that she thinks about “every day”. The tattoo helps to remind her of her lucky escape.