Montini: Thirtieth anniversary of a flight that never arrived

Aug.16, 1987, Northwest Flight 255 took off from Detroit, bound for ... heaven.

EJ Montini: Aug.16, 1987, Northwest Flight 255 took off from Detroit, bound for ... heaven.

In her mind, Dee Murdy’s son Kirk is still 22 years old, soon to be 23.

It isn’t so, but that is how the mind works.

She knows, of course, that if Kirk were alive he would be 52, soon to be 53. He may by now have had a long and varied business career. He’d probably be married. There probably would be grandchildren.

That’s how it could have been if Kirk hadn’t been anxious to get back to Phoenix so that he could pack up his things and head to graduate school. Or if the travel agent the Murdys went to see hadn’t managed to find a seat on a Northwest Airlines flight headed to Sky Harbor airport.

But that is what happened.

 

On Aug. 16, 1987, Dee drove her husband and her son to the airport in Detroit. Back then, the family split time between Jackson, Mich., and Phoenix. Their other son, Craig, a lawyer, had returned to Phoenix earlier. Dee's husband was headed to Houston on a business trip. Kirk was on his way to Phoenix to pack up his belongings.

Kirk’s flight, Northwest Airlines Flight 255, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, took off just about 8:45 p.m. Investigators later discovered that the pilots hadn’t properly gone through their preflight checklist. There was a problem with the flaps. The plane couldn’t gain altitude. Not too far from the runway the aircraft clipped lampposts and the top of a rental car office.

Dee was driving home at the time and saw it happen.

The plane slammed into the ground near a highway overpass. Six crew members and 148 of its 149 passengers were killed, along with two people on the ground.

The only one survivor was 4-year-old Cecelia Cichan. Her mother, father and brother died.

 

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Kirk Murdy (Photo: Family photo)

More than 100 of those killed in the crash had ties to Phoenix.

One of them was Kirk Murdy.

There is a memorial to those lost outside city hall downtown.

“Thirty years is a long time I guess,” Dee tells me. “It’s an anniversary when there aren’t a lot of people around who remember what happened. But there are days when it doesn’t feel long at all. When it feels like yesterday. It’s so strange. I talk to Kirk’s old friends and some of them now have children in college. Kirk’s age. He still seems 22 to me. And some of the parents of those who were killed in the crash have passed away themselves. We stayed in touch over the years with many of the families who were affected.”

Cecelia, the lone survivor, was raised by an aunt and uncle in Alabama. She went on to marry her high school sweetheart. A few years back she was featured in a documentary.

Time passes. Lives go on.

 

Dee has volunteered for a long time at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. She spoke there once to the mother of the woman who was sitting next to Kirk on the doomed flight. The woman’s mother was a Native American weaver. Dee figured out that her son and the women were seatmates after studying a seating chart.

“I wanted to know all about what happened,” she says. “And I don’t mind talking about Kirk. Just the opposite. I enjoy it. People worry sometimes that it will depress me. But it keeps him in our minds. It keeps him with us.”

Kirk was scheduled to bring his dog, Sadie, with him on the flight. They’d purchased a ticket and had a crate to put her in. At the last minute, though, Kirk decided to leave her with his parents.

“He told us we could bring her to him later,” Dee says. “He hadn’t left her with us before. I remember he said to me, ‘She’ll take care of you.’ And she did. We had her for about 10 years after that. It’s one of those strange things, I guess. As if it was meant to be.”

 

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Same flight, different day. Different fate. (Photo: EJ Montini)

A person can get caught up in the “what ifs” of a tragedy like this.

But there are no answers. Fate treats each of us differently.

Dee Murdy knows this. So do I.

Not many days before the crash of Northwest Flight 255 my then 4-year-old daughter and I passed through Detroit on a return trip to Phoenix. We’d been in Pennsylvania visiting my parents. Our flight included a stopover and transfer at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

When we got home I tossed our boarding passes for the final leg of our trip into a desk drawer and didn’t think about them until news flashed of the airline disaster in Michigan.

After the plane crashed I went looking for the passes. We, too, had flown on Northwest Airlines. We, too, had boarded the plane in Detroit, headed to Phoenix. We, too, had left the airport in Detroit at about 8:45.

And our boarding passes read “Northwest 255.” 

 

 

 

 

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Article Montini: Thirtieth anniversary of a flight that never arrived compiled by www.azcentral.com

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