Hoffman Family of Erie Reflects on Loss in the Northwest Airlines Flight 255 Crash in Detroit 35-Years-Ago
August 16 at 8:46 p.m. marks 35 years since one of the worst aviation disasters in U.S. history, the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 in Detroit.
The memory of the disaster is personal for the family of 23-year-old Army 2nd Lt. Christine Hoffman of Erie. She was heading back to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas after using a free ticket to make a surprise visit home to her family.
Christine was among the 156 people killed when the plane when the plane crashed shortly after take off - a number that includes 6 crew members and 148 of 149 passengers. A 4-year-old girl miraculously survived.
Investigators blame pilot error, the crew failing to run a check-list to make sure the jet's flaps were extended for takeoff.
The aircraft barely got off the ground before it broke apart, slammed onto a highway, slid under an underpass and burst into flames.
The loss changed Tom and Gerry Hoffman's family forever. "It really appeared to me on that date that there was a rip in the fabric of our family that I really questioned whether it could be repaired," said Christine's brother Erie attorney Tom Hoffman.
But Christine's sister Aimee and her brother Tom say it was their parents' faith and strength that helped them to see that life goes on.
"I had two little boys at the time who were 5 and 10-months, and my parents really were my strength...they got me through it," said Aimee Hoffman-Moore. They told her she needed to be there for her children. "As time has gone on...it has gotten, I don't want to say easier, but the memories are softer, gentler, easier to deal with --the plane crash memories are easier to deal with, her memories...make me happy."
Their parents encouraged the entire family to press forward. "Life goes on, and the holidays go on," Tom Hoffman said. "So she died in August --Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter -- getting together for those were really hard, and my mom and dad set the example like my sister said. We're going to plow through it like a family, we're going to celebrate -- it's going to be hard, it's going to be painful but we're going to do it. And so that really helped us get through that ripping of our family on that date and it's a tribute to my parents and my sister Aimee for all we got through," he added.
How does Christine's mother Gerry Hoffman say that she and her husband helped the family through? "A lot of praying, a lot of praying - I think I told myself to straighten up -- and it was my job."
Now 35 years after the loss, they choose to focus on pride in the promise of her life. "We learned so much about her military career we didn't know after she was killed," Aimee said, a lot that we didn't know as far as the Patriot Missile, and that she would have been the very first female fire control officer to launch the Patriot Missile."
And to remember her personality. "Smiling, fun-loving, always happy," Tom said, adding, "It sounds so cliche because people say that about people who are passed away but in her case, it really was true."
Christine's father Tom Hoffman lead the Conference on Community Development, and was instrumental in planning the Bayfront Parkway connector. You can see a tribute to his name at the I-79 interchange with the Bayfront Parkway. Hoffman died six years ago.