A talking computer warned the pilots of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 that the plane was stalling just before it crashed, killing 154 people, a published report said today.
The MD-80, a version of the DC-9 jetliner, crashed Sunday night shortly after takeoff at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, killing 152 of 153 people aboard and two others on the ground.
The lone survivor apparently is a badly burned girl, 4-year-old Cecilia Cichan of Tempe, Ariz., found clutched in the arms of a woman believed to have been her mother. She was in critical condition and still unconscious today at the University of Michigan Medical Center's burn unit in Ann Arbor.
For the first time, reporters were given a tour of the crash site today by Wayne County Sheriff Robert Ficano and other officials in his department. Ficano said he was reasonably sure that all of the bodies had been removed from the wreckage and placed in a temporary morgue at an airport hangar.
The New York Times today quoted officials close to the investigation as saying the tapes indicated that pilots had no idea of trouble until a computer warning.
They said tapes from the cockpit voice recorder showed that the takeoff started out normally. Then a buzzer sounded and an automated voice said, "Stall, stall," warning the pilots that the plane was going too slowly to stay in the air. The stall warning sounded again, followed by an expletive from one of the two pilots, two more stall warnings and then the sound of the crash.
The officials said more key information would be coming from the plane's other "black box"--the flight data recorder that has information on the plane's speed, altitude and direction.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that they were looking at a wide range of factors in the crash and whether there was any wind shear at the airport when the plane went down.
A National Weather Service expert said winds at the time of the crash were 13.8 m.p.h.--not enough to cause dangerous wind shear for a plane the size of the Northwest MD-80 that crashed. Visibility was six miles.
"It's going to take nine to 12 months before we have a probable cause," said safety board spokesman Alan Pollock. He said the first report on the crash should be available in 60 days.
A safety board spokeswoman said two black boxes from the plane were flown to Washington on Monday for analysis at the board's laboratory.
In addition to the 144 passengers killed, the safety board said there were two non-working airline employees on the flight and six working crew members--one less airline worker than earlier reported.
Related stories on pages 8, 14 and 15.