Northwest flight 255 was preparing for takeoff on the evening of August 16, 1987. Bound for Phoenix and continuing on to Orange County, the DC-9 was carrying 148 passengers and six crew members. The aircraft was cleared for takeoff on Detroit Metro's runway 03C and began its takeoff roll. After an longer than normal roll, the aircraft lifted off and immediately began rocking laterally. It only gained 50ft in altitude before clipping a light pole with its left wing. It hit a number of other light poles and then clipped the roof of a building, rolling past 90 degrees and then slamming into the ground and bursting in flames. Everyone aboard the aircraft was killed with the exception of a four year old girl. Two motorists who were driving along a highway where wreckage was strewn were killed also.

......Examination of the wreckage showed no signs of any system malfunctions. The only significant find in the wreckage was that both the slats and flaps were retracted. Both would normally be extended during takeoff. Examination of the cockpit also showed that the flap handle was in the retracted position. This was further confirmed by recovery of the FDR. Readout of the CVR showed that the crew had neither called for nor completed the taxi checklist, on which the extension of the slats and flaps are the first item. Just as the aircraft was pushed back from the gate, the first officer, who would have normally started the taxi check at that time, was instead copying the lastest ATIS, which had just been updated.

By the time he was done copying, the aircraft was already taxiing to the runway and it's possible that he believed the extension had already been done. The captain is responsible for calling for the checklists, though the captain of 255 did not call for the after-start, taxi, or pre-takeoff checklists. The crew also had difficulty taxiing to the proper runway even though they had flown out of Detroit several times before. The DC-9 is equipped with CAWS which should have alerted the crew to the improper configuration, but no such warning was heard on the CVR. This was accounted to a power loss prior to taxi, though it could not be determined whether it was intentional or accidental.

This improper configuration severely degraded the aircraft's climbing performance. The stick-shaker activated less than one second after lift-off and continued throughout the short flight. At the time of the incident, the weather was good though there were storms in the immediate vicinity of the airport and windshear advisories were issued. It's possible that the crew believed themselves to be caught in windshear which was evidenced by the captain's increased pitch-up, which is standard windshear avoidance procedure.

Had the crew lowered the nose and extended the flaps and slats, the accident probably could have been avoided. It was speculated that the crew may have been hurried in an effort to depart before the weather got any worse. Also, they may have been rushed in an effort not to miss the noise curfew at Orange County, their final destination.