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URGENT Planes Collide On Ground At Detroit Airport; At Least 19 Dead

December 3, 1990 GMT

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) _ Two jets taxiing for takeoff at the Detroit airport collided in fog today and one of them, a DC-9 with 44 aboard, burned to a blackened hulk. At least 19 people were killed, officials said.

The two Northwest Airlines planes were the DC-9, bound for Pittsburgh with 39 passengers and five crew members, and a Boeing 727-200 headed for Memphis with 146 passengers aboard, the airline said.

Alan Muncaster, Northwest’s vice president of communication in Egan, Minn., confirmed the 19 fatalities.

An undetermined number of persons were injured, some with severe burns, authorities said. All the severe injuries and deaths were believed to be among people on the Pittsburgh-bound plane, authorities said.

It was foggy at the time of the crash and a winter storm had moved through the area earlier.

″Apparently the right wing of the 727 hit the aft section, the engine, of the DC9 taking the engine off,″ Muncaster said. ″That resulted in the fire. That at this point is all we know.″

He said the airport had been closed to inbound traffic because of the fog but they were allowing planes to take off.

Tony Dresden, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said according to preliminary reports from the scene, ″The DC-9 pilot became lost on the runways.″

″The pilot gave the ground controller erroneous information about his position and turned right onto the runway where the 727 was taxiing,″ he said.

″The DC-9 pilot discovered at the very last moment where he was, and so the ground controller told him to immediately get off that runway, but it was too late,″ Dresden said, stressing that the description of the accident was preliminary.

Edward McNamara, Wayne County executive, said there were at least some survivors on the DC-9 and that the only injuries on the Boeing were those that occurred during the evacuation of the plane.

Linda Kalinsky, Taylor Ambulance Co., said, ″We were told that there were 50 or 60 injuries″ including some burn victims.

Originally, the Federal Aviation Administration said the planes’ wingtips struck. Later, Northwest said the wing of the 727hit the rear section of the DC9.

After the accident, one of the planes could be seen surrounded by emergency vehicles, smoke pouring from what appeared to be a burned fuselage, tail blackened by fire. The fuselage appeared to be hollowed out as if by flames.

By an hour after the accident, the fire was apparently out, McNamara said.

As dusk settled in around 4 p.m., a stand of huge lights were wheeled into place near the cockpit of the DC-9 on Runway 3C to allow firefighters and investigators to see.

At the time of the crash, weather was foggy, and the ground was wet from a morning snow and sleet storm that delayed flights at the airport.

At least 11 people were brought or en route to Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, said spokeswoman Pat O’Dowd, and at least one was in critical condition. Two of the victims at that hospital were transferred to the University of Michigan Medical Center Burn Center at Ann Arbor.

Romulus, where Detroit Metropolitan Airport is located, is some 10 miles west of Detroit.

It was the site of the second worst air crash in U.S. history, the Aug. 16, 1987, crash of a Northwest MD-80, on takeoff in which 156 people were killed.

The airport remained open after the accident.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were being dispatched to the scene to begin a probe aimed at determining the cause of the accident, a safety board spokesman said.