Wreckage, Recollections Probed for Jet Collision Cause
Investigators working in a light snow on a windy runway today surveyed the burned-out shell of a jetliner that turned into the path of another, causing a collision that killed eight people.
The investigators’ spokesman refused to respond to speculation that fog disoriented the pilot of the DC-9, which collided Monday with a Boeing 727 racing down a runway toward takeoff at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
At least 20 people were treated for burns, broken bones, smoke inhalation and other injuries, and seven remained in hospitals today. Some had leaped to the slushy runway as an explosion of flames burned the roof off their plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board set up teams to look into such factors as human performance, engines and survivors’ recollections. Before daybreak, investigators used stadium-style lights to inspect the wreckage in 32-degree cold, with a wind chill of 4 degrees.
“It’s not particularly a benign environment out there right now,” John Lauber, a NTSB member, said at a morning briefing.
Lauber said investigators were warned to be cautious in picking through the unstable wreckage under time pressure caused by the weather. Airport officials wanted the two planes, both operated by Northwest Airlines, moved to reopen the only runway not affected by crosswinds, Lauber said.
Officials said the jets both left their gates at 1:31 p.m. and ended up 2,500 feet apart on the same runway after the collision.
The 727 was racing down a runway toward takeoff when its wing was sheared off by the DC-9, which had turned in front of it. Fuel poured from the planes and the DC-9 burst into flames, killing seven men and one woman, a flight attendant, among the 43 people aboard.
The victims apparently died from noxious fumes before their bodies were burned beyond recognition, Dr. Bader Cassin, chief medical examiner for Wayne County, said today.
The pilots survived the collision, authorities said. One was treated at a hospital and released, and there was no word the others were injured.
Northwest spokesman Bob Gibbons identified the pilot of the DC-9 as William Lovelace, a 24-year veteran of the airline who had been on a medical leave for kidney stones for the past five years. Flight 1482 was Lovelace’s 13th since returning to work. Five of the flights were from Detroit.
Gibbons identified the dead flight attendant as 43-year-old Heidi Joost of the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.
Crew members on both planes and air traffic controllers were ordered to undergo drug tests, which are routine after such an accident.
Planes Collide on Detroit Runway Two Northwest Airlines planes, a DC-9 series 10 and a Boeing 727-200, collided on a runway Monday at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The Collision A 727 with 146 passengers aboard, collided with a DC-9 with 39 passengers aboard. The tip of the the 727’s right wing hit the right side of the DC-9 behind the cockpit, raked along its fuselage at about window height and knocked off its right tail engine.