DETROIT, DEC. 12 -- Investigators found a broken emergency release in the tail of a Northwest Airlines DC-9 in which eight people died after it collided last week with another plane on a runway, federal officials said today.

A flight attendant and a passenger tried to escape through the hatch, but the two died after the release jammed and trapped them inside, the Detroit News reported, citing an unidentified source.

A Boeing 727 was attempting to take off at Detroit Metropolitan Airport Dec. 3 when its right wing struck the taxiing DC-9, which had turned in front of it. The ensuing fire moved quickly through the DC-9, which had 39 passengers and four crew members aboard. The 145 passengers and eight crew members on the 727 were uninjured.

"Investigators have found, after extensive testing, that the interior tail cone release mechanism failed to separate the tail cone and deploy the emergency slide," National Transportation Safety Board member John Lauber said. "The interior release handle was found partially raised," he said, and investigators "found the stem of the handle broken."

The newspaper reported its source said investigators determined the flight attendant, Heidi Joost, 43, of Dearborn, Mich., and passenger, Kingsley Brown, 30, of Pittsburgh, made it through one emergency hatch to a catwalk in the plane's tail cone, and one of them pulled a red handle designed to pop off the tail cone and release a chute on which passengers could escape. The bodies of Joost and Brown were found a few feet from the tail-cone release lever, the newspaper said.

Alan Pollock, a safety board spokesman, said the board would not speculate on whether the flight attendant or passenger had pulled the handle.

Cheri Quinn, an off-duty Northwest flight attendant who was on the DC-9, said a chute similar to the one that did not open in the tail also failed to open at the plane's left front exit. Passengers were forced to jump or were lowered to the ground, she said. The chute at the front right side of the plane opened properly.