The team investigating the August crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 will recreate the day of the crash for the National Transportation Safety Board in a public hearing that begins Monday in Detroit.
The team has published 10,000 pages of information ranging from weather conditions on Aug. 16 -- the day the plane crashed during takeoff -- to a history of the crashed Douglas MD80's repairs, the airlines' training methods and any distractions that the crew experienced before they attempted to take off from Detroit Municipal Airport on a flight to Phoenix.
The plane rose only 48 feet before it clipped a light pole, hit a rental car agency and exploded into a fireball on a freeway, killing 156 people.
The only passenger to survive was 4-year-old Cecelia Cichan. Her parents and 6-year-old brother were among the victims. She is now living with her aunt and uncle in Birmingham.
Patricia Goldman, who will chair the hearing, said she expects to focus on the pilots' performance and the failure of a warning system to tell the crew that the wing flaps were not extended as they should have been.
"By the time you get to the hearing, the major facts of the accident are pretty well established," she said. "What you hope to try and do is put together more of the circumstances that would lead us to the 'why.' "
Consequently, investigators have also written long, detailed biographies of the crew and the jet, down to the 57-year-old captain's last meal and the 5-year-old jet's first maintenance check.
Capt. John Maus, for instance, was on his first flight after vacation. He and copilot David J. Dodds previously had flown to Detroit on a 39-minute hop from Saginaw, Mich. There were thunderstorms on the horizon.
As they prepared to leave Detroit, air traffic controllers assigned them to a shorter runway. They were held up on the taxiway because of weather delays, and they discussed how the delays would make them late in Phoenix.
When the pilots rolled down the runway, the cockpit voice recorder reveals, one noticed the automatic throttle had not been set, and they set it as they gained speed. One of them laughed.
An investigator interpreted it as a "nervous" laugh.
The throttle was on the same checklist as the "flaps and slats." As the plane took off, the "stall" warning sounded, but the audible signal that would have told them the flaps and slats were not properly set did not sound.
The board has already concluded the MD80's flaps, used to assist in gaining lift, were set in the improper retract position. The board has also released several documents, including a transcript of the pilots' final conversation and test results that showed no electrical power flowed through the circuit to the warning that would have said, "Flaps."
A tape recording of the pilots' final 30 minutes before the crash indicate that the captain and his copilot apparently missed doing one full preflight checklist. The list contains nine items. "Flaps" is first on the list.
At the scene, investigators brought back instruments and light bulbs from the jet's main control panel, pieces of the wing and wing flaps, the flap wheel and handle from the cockpit, and various sections of wiring.
Goldman said she expects to call 27 witnesses, including experts from the manufacturer, Douglas Aircraft Co., to explain the jet's characteristics; executives from Northwest to provide details of Northwest's pilot training program, and another Northwest pilot who said he saw the flaps and slats set in the proper position.
The Air Line Pilots Association is expected to spotlight the failure of the warning system.
Earlier, investigators had speculated that the circuit that supplies the power to the warning system had been disconnected on an earlier flight, although there is no evidence that the pilots disabled it. Sources close to the investigation say the power in the plane's electrical box was tested after the crash and found to be working.