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The plane lifted off the runway at 170 knots (200 mph; 310 km/h), and began to roll from side to side[1]:4 just under 50 feet (15 m) above the ground. The MD-82's rate of climb was greatly reduced as a result of the flaps not being extended,[1]:67 and approximately 2,760 feet (840 m) past the end of runway 3C, the plane's left wing struck a light pole in an airport rental car lot.[1]:22 The impact caused the left wing to start dis

The plane lifted off the runway at 170 knots (200 mph; 310 km/h), and began to roll from side to side[1]:4 just under 50 feet (15 m) above the ground. The MD-82's rate of climb was greatly reduced as a result of the flaps not being extended,[1]:67 and approximately 2,760 feet (840 m) past the end of runway 3C, the plane's left wing struck a light pole in an airport rental car lot.[1]:22 The impact caused the left wing to start disintegrating and catch fire.[1]:22,26 The plane rolled 90 degrees to the left, striking the roof of an Avis Car Rental building. The plane (now uncontrolled) crashed inverted onto Middlebelt Road and struck vehicles just north of its intersection with Wick Road, killing two people on the ground in a car. It then broke apart, with the fuselage skidding across the road, disintegrating and bursting into flames as it hit a Norfolk Southern railroad overpass and the overpass of eastbound Interstate 94 (I-94).[1]:22,26[6]

The crash was witnessed from the air traffic control tower, and almost immediately the airport was shut down.[7]

Passengers

The flight crew and all but one of the passengers were killed in the crash.[1]:25–26

One of the passengers on Northwest 255 was Nick Vanos, an NBA center for the Phoenix Suns. Two motorists on nearby Middlebelt Road also died and five people on the ground were injured, one seriously. The bodies were moved to the Northwest hangar at the airport, which served as a temporary morgue.[8]

The sole survivor of the crash was a four-year-old girl from Tempe, Arizona.[9] Romulus firemen found her still belted in her seat, which was faced down. She was found several feet from the bodies of her mother, father, and six-year-old brother.[10] She sustained severe burns and fractures to her skull, collarbone, and left leg.[1]:25–26[11] After the crash, the girl lived with her

The crash was witnessed from the air traffic control tower, and almost immediately the airport was shut down.[7]

The flight crew and all but one of the passengers were killed in the crash.[1]:25–26

One of the passengers on Northwest 255 was Nick Vanos, an NBA center for the Nick Vanos, an NBA center for the Phoenix Suns. Two motorists on nearby Middlebelt Road also died and five people on the ground were injured, one seriously. The bodies were moved to the Northwest hangar at the airport, which served as a temporary morgue.[8]

The sole survivor of the crash was a four-year-old girl from Tempe, Arizona.[9] Romulus firemen found her still belted in her seat, which was faced down. She was found several feet from the bodies of her mother, father, and six-year-old brother.[10] She sustained severe burns and fractures to her skull, collarbone, and left leg.[1]:25–26[11] After the crash, the girl lived with her maternal aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama. She spoke to the media about her experience for the first time in 2011.[12][13]

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash.

Eyewitnesses stated that Flight 255's takeoff roll was longer than usual and that the aircraft took off at a steeper angle. Their statements on whether or not the flaps and slats were extended varied, but most responded that they were extended, although they could not tell how far.[1]:4

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) provided evidence of the flight crew's omission of the taxi checklist. Although the stall warning was annunciated, investigators determined from the CVR that the aural takeoff warning was not annunciated by that warning system. The NTSB was unable to determine a cause for the electrical-power failure in the Central Aural Warning System (CAWS):

After the crash Northwest followed standard procedure; the airline no longer used 255 as a flight number. From late 1987 until the company merged with Delta Air Lines in early 2010, the last nonstop flight from Detroit to Phoenix was renumbered as Flight 261.[15] Delta continues the retirement of 255 by Northwest; as of 2020, there is no Delta flight 255.[16]

Memorials