Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News
Flight 255, 20 years later
A moment of silence, then tears at memorial
Loved ones come together at crash site to honor victims and find closure
Mark Hicks / The Detroit News
ROMULUS -- As jets soared overhead and evening traffic rushed past her on Interstate 94 late Thursday, Samantha Grace stood silently, wiping tears.
For the first time Thursday, the 34-year-old nursing student joined mourners at a blue-spruce-topped hill east of Middle Belt to view the memorial for her best friend, Arlene Nelson, one of 156 who died after Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed on Aug. 16, 1987.
"It took me many years to have the courage to come here," Grace said. "It's beautiful."
More than 50 gathered for a vigil commemorating the 20th anniversary of the crash.
At 8:46 p.m. on Aug. 16, 1987, the plane carrying 149 passengers and six crew members rolled during takeoff from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, struck light poles and plummeted. Two on the ground died and all but one passenger -- a 4-year-old girl named Cecelia Cichan. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crew failed to use a checklist to ensure that wing flaps and stats were extended.
For friends and relatives, Thursday's vigil -- the 19th -- offered closure and a chance to "honor loved ones however they wish," said Tony Zanger, who oversees a Web site and support group for Flight 255 survivors. His brother, Michael, died in the crash.
The black granite memorial, engraved with a white dove bearing a ribbon reading "Their spirit lives on," gleamed in the summer sunset as roses, carnations, baskets, stuffed unicorns and photographs adorned it.
Kay Gleason of Shelby Township laid a yellow rose in honor of her husband, Patrick, a GM worker. "This is where most of us want to be -- with people who understand," she said.
At 8:46 p.m., mourners quieted. Candles and flashlights illuminated the memorial as a rose-orange dusk descended. As the Rev. Jim Wieging of River Rouge's Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church read off each victim's name, attendees dabbed tears, bowed their heads or embraced.
Nearby, Erica Packard of Dryden stood with her mother, Stephani Sylvester, and relative, Michelle Easton, recalling her aunt, Sande Garriott. "It's very nice remembering together," she said. "We didn't have that closure."
Sue Pinsoneault -- who lost her sister, Laura Anne Moy Thorell, brother-in-law Lawrence Thorell, and 1-year-old niece, Krista Anne -- distributed white dove-shaped pins.
"It's nice to know people still care," the teacher from Roscommon said. "It's just as important now as the last 19 years and the next 100."
You can reach Mark Hicks at (313) 222-2117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go in Peace