Government tests have turned up an apparent flaw in the handle of the rear emergency exit on McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jets such as the one that burned after colliding with another jet on a runway at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last month, it was reported Tuesday.

According to a Jan. 2 internal National Transportation Safety Board memo acquired by the Detroit Free Press, the tests indicate the handle can break if it is pulled at an angle, rather than directly outward.A Northwest Airlines DC-9 strayed onto the wrong runway in dense fog Dec. 3 and was clipped by a larger jet on a takeoff roll. The DC-9 burst into flames, killing eight people.

Two bodies were found in a rear passage near the exit. At the time, NTSB officials said the exit release handle, which opens the tail cone, was broken on the damaged jet.

According to the NTSB memo, "it is not known at this point whether a passenger or a flight attendant . . . in the aft portion of the airpline, attempted to open the exit and broke the handle inadvertently, or if it was broken previously."

The NTSB staff proposed recommendations for the board to send to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the rear exit door handles on DC-9s, the memo said. The recommendations were not specified in the memo, however.

NTSB spokesman Alan Pollock said he had not seem the memo and declined to comment on the report.