Cecelia Cichan, lone survivor of 1987 Michigan plane crash, speaks out

Updated: 15 Aug 2012
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A four-year-old girl who was the sole survivor of a plane crash which killed everyone else on board has spoken for the first time, 25 years after the disaster.
 
Cecelia Cichan, 29, became known as the 'miracle child' after she was dug out of the burning wreckage by a rescuer who heard her whimper.
 
Northwest Airlines flight 255 crashed shortly after take-off at an airport in Romulus, Michigan en route to Phoenix, Arizona on August 16, 1987. Some 156 people died, including two on the ground, in what remains one of the deadliest air disasters in U.S. history. 
 
 

Miracle: Cecelia Cichan, 29, was four years old when she survived a plane crash in Michigan which killed the other 154 people on board including her parents and six-year-old brother 
  
 
Sole survivor: Four-year-old Cecelia was dug from the burning wreckage of Flight 255 by a firefighter having suffered a fractured skull, broken leg and collarbone and third-degree burns 
  

Wreckage: Bodies covered with plastic bags lie strewn across the highway where the plane came down in Romulus, Michigan
 
The young woman has decided to tell her story as part of a new documentary called Sole Survivor featuring passengers who lived through plane crashes against all odds. 
 
She told film-makers: 'It’s kind of hard not to think about it. When I look in the mirror, I have visual scars.' 
 
It was believed that Cecelia survived the crash because her mother shielded her with her own body.

Her mother, Paula, father Michael and brother, David, six were among those killed as the family returned from their vacation 
 
The four-year-old suffered serious injuries including a fractured skull, broken leg and collarbone and third-degree burns. She underwent four skin grafts for the burns on her arms and legs.
 
There was intense global interest in the little girl, which saw her feature on magazine covers and receive piles of gifts from strangers. 
 
More than 2,000 presents and 30,000 cards were sent to the University of Michigan Medical Center but her guardians asked that they be distributed to local children's hospitals. The family also set up a trust fund after she received more than $150,000 in donations.

Her uncle Franklin Lumpkin and her aunt Rita, her mother's sister, kept her sheltered from the attention once she left hospital after seven weeks of treatment, allowing her to grow up in obscurity in Birmingham, Alabama.  
 
Cecelia, who is now 29 and married, has never spoken publicly but has a small tattoo of an airplane on her left wrist to remind her of a tragedy that she thinks about 'every day'. 
 
Cecelia said that she had finally decided to open up about the crash because the film was a group project 'and that’s why I’m willing to get involved and be part of something bigger'.

The man who pulled her from wreckage more than 20 years ago, firefighter John Thiede, told the Today show: 'I heard that faint cry a baby doll makes. 
 
'I looked to my right and I could see an arm, kind of bent, coming out of a chair.' 
 
It was initially believed that the four-year-old was one of those injured on the ground until her grandfather came forward to identify the little girl by her chipped front tooth.

Dr Jai Prasad, the doctor who led the team which cared for the four-year-old, said at the time: 'She understands she has lost her father and her mother, and her brother.

'She understands that she was involved in an accident. 
 
'But she doesn't have any memory of how it happened.'

Cecelia has kept in touch with the families of those who died in the 1987 crash - including her rescuer Lieutenant Thiede.

He met her for the first time on her wedding day when he watched her walk down the aisle to become Cecelia Crocker.
 
The firefighter spoke out as part of the documentary, made by Yellow Wing Productions.

Lieutenant Thiede said: 'To see her come down the aisle, my heart, I lost it really. Just to see her in person was something.' 
 
Sole Survivors tells the story of 13 others who were the only people left alive in deadly plane crashes - none of whom have ever spoken publicly.

The 25th anniversary of the Michigan crash will be commemorated by victims' families on Thursday at the memorial site close to where the plane went down. 
 
The black granite memorial was erected in 1994 and stands on a hill above the interstate where the passengers perished. 
 
The names of all those who died are inscribed under a dove with a ribbon in its beak, reading: 'Their spirit still lives on.'
 
SOURCE: dailymail.co.uk
  
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