8 killed, 22 hurt as 2 jets collide on Detroit runway

December 04, 1990|By Knight-Ridder News Service Lynda Robinson of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

DETROIT -- Eight people were killed and 22 injured yesterday in an airline collision in which one Northwest Airlines jet strayed through heavy fog into the path of another that was taking off at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The dead were all aboard Northwest Flight 1482, a DC-9 bound for Pittsburgh, that caught fire after the crash.

The DC-9 pilot may have missed a turn in straying onto Runway 3-C, where his jet was on a head-on collision course with Northwest Flight 299, a Boeing 727-200 that was just lifting its nose into the air, headed for Memphis, Tenn.

Just before the crash, the DC-9 pilot radioed the control tower that he was lost, according to an airport maintenance worker on the scene. When the controller realized where he was and told him to clear the runway, the worker said, the DC-9 veered left in an attempt to get off the runway.

Wayne County and airline officials said the right wing of the 727 hit the fuselage of the DC-9 just behind the co-pilot's seat. Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara said the 727's right wing raked the right side of the DC-9 at window level and knocked an engine off the DC-9's tail.

If the DC-9 had not begun moving off the runway, the planes "would have collided nose-to-nose, and everybody would have died," said the maintenance worker.

Robert Karp, 60, of Jackson, Miss., a passenger aboard Flight 299, said, "It was incredible. A milli second one way or the other and it would have been all of us out there."

After the collision, fuel spilled out of both planes "in buckets," said one witness, touching off a blaze that engulfed the DC-9. By the time the fire was extinguished nearly an hour after the accident, much of the plane's roof was gone.

Mr. McNamara said the fog was so thick at the time of the crash that firefighters failed to see the damaged plane after reaching the spot where the 727 rolled to a halt after aborting its takeoff. He said he was told by officials that visibility was about 100 feet.

Jerry Linton, who oversees air traffic controllers at the airport, said he thought weather played a role in the crash.

"It was very, very foggy," he said. "Both planes were not observable from the control tower." The ground also was wet from a morning snow and sleet storm that had delayed flights.

Passengers on the 727 had no idea how bad the accident was until they were taken off their plane and they saw the burning airliner. One said he thought they'd just lost a wheel.

Others realized they might have lost a wing, but said there was no panic on the plane.

[One of the 727 passengers was Dana Kolb, a 20-year-old student from Bel Air, Md., who was en route to Evangel College in Springfield, Mo. She was not hurt.

[Miss Kolb's mother, Gloria Kellerman, said she was "just very thankful" that her daughter wasn't on the plane that burned.

[Home for a Thanksgiving visit, Miss Kolb was supposed to have left Baltimore Sunday. But she was sick and rescheduled the flight for yesterday, her mother said.]

John Izzo, 41, of Pittsburgh, a passenger on the DC-9, was asleep when the collision occurred. "My eyes were closed," he said. "I heard a blast . . . and shrapnel was hanging over my head. Oxygen masks dangled over my head. The right rear [of the plane] burned away."

He said he found the nearest exit and got out onto a wing, then jumped down about 8 feet to the runway.

Mr. Izzo said he helped two injured people who had also escaped crawl to a marshy area around the runway, several hundred yards away.

"We could hear hissing from the plane, so we figured we'd back up, thinking the plane was going to blow up," he said. "It was like a big kerosene torch. I watched flames devour the plane."

Once they had crawled to safety, he said, he helped several other injured passengers. One man -- known to him only as "Joe" -- had lost a finger and had a broken leg. He put his briefcase under Joe's head and tried to shield him from the rain.

Mr. Izzo said he also helped a man with a burned face and "melted" fingertips and another man with a gashed forehead: "I made a snowball and covered it for him and took his tie and made a bandage."

The dead -- seven men and a woman -- were found in the plane's aisles, burned after apparently being overcome by toxic fumes and smoke, authorities said. Twenty-two passengers and crew were sent to hospitals with injuries. No names were released.

Hours after the crash, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman reiterated the agency's call for new regulations aimed at preventing ground collisions at airports.

The NTSB has been seeking such regulations for nearly five years and considers the need so urgent that less than two months ago it listed such regulations among its 18 "most wanted" new safety measures, according to NTSB spokesman Michael Benson.

[The Associated Press reported that the DC-9's pilot and co-pilot were injured but that the pilots of both aircraft were able to give statements to authorities. Northwest did not reveal what the pilots said.]

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.