25 Years Later: “Sole Survivor” Film Examines Emotions, Struggle

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of one of the worst disasters in U.S. aviation history: On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 255 crashed in Romulus, Michigan shortly after takeoff while en route to Phoenix, Arizona. All on board were killed except one, the sole survivor Cecelia Cichan. Dubbed the “miracle child,” the four-year-old suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg and collarbone, and third-degree burns on 30 percent of her body. Her mother, father, and six-year-old brother were among the fatalities. Yet somehow, she survived.

After the crash, young Cecelia’s aunt and uncle raised her in obscurity in Birmingham, Alabama, shielded from the media and public. Now 29 and married, Cecelia Crocker has finally come forward with her story in the upcoming documentary “Sole Survivor,” which examines the emotional struggle of survivorship and its impact on the human condition. Director Ky Dickens’ film features Crocker and 12 other sole commercial plane-crash survivors—including George Lamson, Bahia Bakari, and Jim Polehinke—all of whom have never spoken in public until now. Though the survivors were reluctant to share their stories out of respect for the losses of other families, Crocker said she did so when she came to realize that the documentary project is about being a part of something bigger.

To commemorate the Northwest Airlines flight, the victims’ families will meet August 16 on a hill near the crash site, where a black granite slab inscribed with each victim’s name stands. As for the film, Dickens plans to finish it in September.

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