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Documentary wraps featuring Detroit plane crash survivor

Cecelia Cichan shows a tattoo of an airplane she has on her wrist. She speaks about being the sole survivor of the crash of NW flight 255 out of Detroit in a documentary. WDIV aired clips of that documentary.
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Filming has wrapped on a documentary featuring the only survivor of the 1987 plane crash near Detroit.

Twenty-five years after Northwest Flight 255 killed some 150 passengers, Cecelia Cichan is telling her story publicly for the first time.

She was just four years old when she survived the crash that killed her parents and brother. Now she and 13 other lone survivors of commercial crashes are the focus of the film entitled "Sole Survivor."

Ky Dickens is the film’s director.  “The one unifying emotion that all of them have is a deep sense of loneliness. Often, the sole survivors feel completely separate from the community that was impacted, from the victim’s families, because in some way they are: they survived.”

“And then there’s a separation from the public at large, because there’s often a deep desire to put a shield around you so people can’t judge what you are or are not doing with your lives after this tragedy where you were the only one spared. “

Dickens says the process of filming itself was an emotional evolution for the survivors, especially as they met with the families of crash victims.

As they finished shooting in Michigan around the time of the 25th anniversary of Northwest Flight 255, Dickens says they began to receive an outpouring of support.  "The amount of letters and emails that we received of victim's families telling us how happy they were that Cecilia was finally speaking, because for them she was a link in this whole tragedy that had never really been soldered, and a link back to their loved ones. And also almost a way for them to catalogue where their loved ones would be 25 years later.”

Knowing that Cecilia had gone on to live a fulfilling life –  she was adopted by family, graduated from college, and married – brought victims’ families a sense of comfort, says Dickens. “Knowing that Cecilia’s happy and is doing well now, and getting some insight into that life, it really does facilitate, I think, that final step towards closure.”

Dickens says Michigan families connected to Flight 255 have been a big part of the film's fundraising. "It’s been unbelievable. The community in Michigan and especially the Detroit area has given almost more than any other place in the country. And I think that's just a testament to how many people were affected by the Northwest 255 tragedy, how many people were impacted also by the survival of Cecilia and also just deeply want to hear her story told.”

Dickens says the film will be released within the next six months.     

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.