Investigators found a broken emergency release in the tail of a Northwest Airlines DC-9 in which eight people died after it collided with another plane on a runway, federal officials said Wednesday.
A flight attendant and a passenger tried to escape through the hatch, but they died after the release jammed and trapped them inside, the Detroit News reported Wednesday, citing an unidentified source.
A Boeing 727 was racing toward takeoff at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Dec. 3 when it struck the taxiing DC-9, which had turned in front of it. The Northwest 727’s right wing clipped the DC-9 behind the co-pilot’s seat and knocked an engine off the DC-9.
The ensuing fire moved quickly through the DC-9, which had 39 passengers and four crew members aboard.
“Investigators have found, after extensive testing, that the interior tail cone release mechanism failed to separate the tail cone and deploy the emergency slide,” National Transportation Safety Board member John Lauber said.
“The interior release handle was found partially raised from its stowed position during the safety board’s initial examination. Investigators inspected the interior release handle and have found the stem of the handle broken.”
The source told the newspaper investigators determined that the flight attendant and passenger made it through one emergency hatch to a catwalk in the plane’s tail cone, and one of them pulled a red handle designed to pop off the tail cone and release a slide.
Alan Pollock, a safety board spokesman, said the board was only reporting the broken handle, and he would not speculate on whether the flight attendant or passenger had pulled it.