“An Aerial View of the Southern Airways Flight 242 Crash Site in New Hope, GA”–by Clifford Davids

Southern Airways Flight Attendant ca. 1950's

Southern Airways ca. 1950’s

The intersection that marks the commercial heart of New Hope, GA looks unremarkable…at first. You can get a quick trim and a shave at Pete’s Barbershop before picking up a few groceries across the street at Publix, or perhaps enjoy the cowboy stew at Rodney’s BBQ after a hard day at work. Come Sunday, your family can attend services at the New Hope First Baptist Church, which stands directly across the street from the Civil War era cemetery. I traveled there on April 6, 2013, hoping to find the location of the crash site for the worst aviation disaster in the history of the state of Georgia. But after driving my car back and forth on the main drag, I came up empty handed. I couldn’t find a thing.

So I parked my car in front of the New Hope Martial Arts School just north of the intersection on Dallas-Acworth Highway, got out and peered up and down the road…and I still couldn’t find a marker or sign. I returned to my car and decided to go back to the old church graveyard–I’ve always considered cemeteries to be a good place to begin and finish a journey. As I walked among the Confederate monuments and headstones my cell phone rang, the skies finally cleared, and my odyssey truly began.

It was Hugh Walters, my local contact and veteran guide. Hugh is one of the old guard, an unaffiliated Paulding County historian with a rebel mustache and deep roots in the New Hope community. He is a member of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans, and also belongs to New Hope Memorial Flight 242, Inc., the organization raising funds to build a proper Flight 242 crash memorial. He had been quietly observing my movements from the vantage point of the church parking lot. When I looked up, he waved for me to come over.

After shaking his hand, I asked him where everything was. He looked right at me with quiet amusement, explaining that I was standing smack on the spot where Southern Airways Flight 242 had first touched pavement in a desperate attempt at a forced landing. He told me I was also standing in the middle of the historic New Hope Church battlefield. Back in 1864 General William T. Sherman came to know this area quite well, having encountered fierce resistance and heavy casualties on his way to conquering Atlanta.

I looked around again. I was standing at the same intersection, but this time I saw the path that Flight 242 had taken straight up Highway 92 Spur in a desperate attempt at a forced landing before it crashed and burned. Located directly behind me were the crumbling but still visible entrenchments from that bloody battle in 1864–unbelievably, they still ran right past the New Hope church and then beyond to the graveyard. It was all right here.

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Aerial view of the crash site

The forced landing site on Highway 92 Spur. The volunteer fire station (with a pole-mounted siren) is the red building at the bottom. The remains of Newman’s Store are mid-photo. The aircraft’s final resting spot is at the top.

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I needed to find a way to fit the pieces of this complex puzzle together, so I started with the National Transportation Safety Board’s Southern Airways Flight 242 accident report. The final report was dated January 26, 1978, and states in part:

The aircraft’s outboard left wing section first contacted two trees near State Spur Highway 92 (now Dallas-Acworth Highway) south south-west within the community of New Hope. The left and right wings continued to strike trees and utility poles on both sides of the highway, and 570 feet after striking the first tree in New Hope, the aircraft’s left main gear contacted the highway to the left of the center line. Almost simultaneously, the outer structure of the left wing struck an embankment, and the aircraft veered to the left and off the highway. The aircraft traveled another 1,260 feet before it came to a rest. As it traveled, the aircraft struck road signs, utility poles, fences, trees, shrubs, gasoline pumps at a gas station-store, 5 automobiles, and a truck. The total wreckage area was about 1,900 ft. long and 295 ft. wide.  (Sec. 1.12) Wreckage and Impact Information

The dry language of the NTSB report doesn’t even begin to describe the human toll of the 72 people killed in the tragic crash–of the hauntingly silent descent of Flight 242 after both jet engines flamed out–of the co-pilot’s frenzied search for a suitable runway to land the stricken aircraft–or of the community unlucky enough to get caught between a powerfully destructive force and its final destination…for the second time.

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Aerial view of the final resting spot in front of the Burkhalter house

Aerial view of Flight 242’s final remains. Highway 92 Spur runs along the top of the photograph.

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27 Responses to “An Aerial View of the Southern Airways Flight 242 Crash Site in New Hope, GA”–by Clifford Davids

  1. Robin Richardson Gilbert says:

    I have driven down Highway 92 countless times. It is stunning to think that these events happened on the road I have followed so often, and yet I was unaware. It seems impossible that these things occurred without some permanent mark being left by the Universe, some cosmic force of God, or nature! All those lives lost–so MANY lives lost, and not an obvious sign left behind. I am sure there is a marker for those who died in the Civil War battle there. They most definitely need to build a memorial to Southern Airways Flight 242.

  2. Jon Davids says:

    Cliff, great start, I am hooked! I can’t wait to learn more of the story!

  3. Cheryl G says:

    Great stories. I have been in Georgia for 14 years, and I never knew about the plane crash in New Hope. Cliff you are a great story teller. Keep them coming!

  4. Sadie Burkhalter Hurst says:

    Thank you Cliff, for the stories, although I was there that day–I could only see from my own point of view. You are showing me things I never knew happened that day. My children will be able to read these articles and appreciate them now.

    • cbdavids says:

      Sadie—You were not only there that day, the aircraft came to a fiery halt right in front of your family’s house. I’m happy to provide you with any new information I find regarding Flight 242.

      Cliff

  5. Chris Toles says:

    I was a senior in high school in Rome, GA on the day that the tornadoes touched down and large hail pummeled our house here in Rome. I was in the house with my dad and sister, and she was in the closet praying for safety. It was only after the storm passed, which had also damaged our home, that I found out about the passenger plane that had crashed in New Hope, GA. I was only 18, and I had no idea where New Hope was. It was then I began my year long search for the site.

    Thirty-six years later in 2013, I met Steve Burkhalter, the son of Sadie Hurst – a fine man I might add – and I began to explore the story of Flight 242 and watched the video “Southern Storm.” On July 28, 2013 I found myself on the way to New Hope, GA to view the crash area, and found it to be much like Mr. Davids noted. It was impossible to tell that anything that horrific had happened 36 years ago.

    My thoughts go out to the families of the victims that were on the plane and on the ground, to the survivors, and to those who helped the victims.

  6. Barry Woodward says:

    Cliff, I was there the next morning as part of the DeKalb County Police response to the scene to assist. I had the second Command Post on the scene to assist the Georgia State Patrol with communications on site. We were parked right in front of the white house to the right of the main crash scene. I had never seen anything like it up close. I got an opportunity to walk the entire site during the day, just stunning that anyone even survived.

    Yesterday, I was at a meeting in Paulding County, and afterward, I drove out to the crash site. I had not been there in 36 years, but the memory was just as vivid as it was that day, albeit a bit overgrown in the area, but there was no mistake where I was. I wish I had had more time yesterday to walk over the area, but time would not allow. I did get a picture of the marker at the cemetery on the corner.

    Barry Woodward
    DeKalb County Police Department (retired)

    • cbdavids says:

      Mr. Woodward–Thanks for the comment. Next time you’re in New Hope, stop by Rodney’s BBQ on Dallas-Acworth Highway, right on the forced landing site. Rodney recently created the New Hope/Flight 242 History Exhibit in the entrance to his restaurant.

      Cliff

  7. Ruby Hall Lamp says:

    Thank you for this posting! I now live in the old Burkhalter house, right where the plane crashed. I remember the neighbors and their painful healing. RIP for all of the dear ones!

  8. Kenny C says:

    I remember it very well. My best friend, Bryan Bray, was an orderly at Kennestone Hospital and he somehow ended up going to the site to help within an hour or so after the crash. I know Bo Pounds sent several ambulances out there (Metro) and Bryan rode on one of those. He was very descriptive to me/us in what he saw there. Thank you for posting the photos and story. Bryan drowned in Lake Allatoona just shortly after this on June 5, 1977.

  9. Amanda says:

    I also remember this day very well. I was 8-years-old and they had the road blocked. We stayed tuned to the TV and any updates that came out that afternoon. My family knew some of the people on the ground that were killed. I drive down the same stretch road every day, and not one day goes by that I dont think of the ones that were lost in that crash.

  10. kpbell3 says:

    My grandparents, Mallie and Annie Lou Pickett, lived in the house between Newman’s Store and the Volunteer Fire Department. I remember that day all too well because I also lost family in the crash. It’s hard to be up there and not think about it.

  11. Ray Mitchell says:

    I worked for Douglas County EMC when this crash happened. I was on call that day, and we got there about 30 minutes after the crash. All I can say it was a very gruesome site.

  12. David Lord says:

    I remember hearing about that crash, but after all these years had no idea that I have passed by this location so many times and didn’t realize it. Sad day for many people.

  13. Phyllis (Bowman) Gilbert says:

    I will never forget that day. My uncle Lyone Abney was in Newman’s store and helped tear boards off the back door to get people out. His car was crushed in the parking lot beside the family that died in their car. The plane went over my mother’s car as we were pulling out of my grandmother’s house across from the New Hope Elementary School (WC Abney Elementary).

  14. Scott Allen says:

    My father worked for the Cobb County Fire Deptment and helped with the identification of bodies on the ground after the crash. When he came home that morning he called the family together for a group hug. I was 14 years old and wanted no part of it, but dad was not a man to ask you twice, and he held us all for a few moments. My mom asked what had happened, and dad told us where he had been and a little of what he had done at the crash site. The last thing dad said about the crash was “The pilot did a hellava job, he stuck it on the stripe, and if it had of been a little wider everyone would have walked away!”

    Dad never talked about it again, until one day on a little road he and I traveled 2 or 3 times a week he said “He set it down right here, she started coming apart right there, and came to rest right there. And knowing he was going to die first, he was one hellava pilot….” I finished the sentence for him “He stuck it on the stripe, and if it had been a little wider…..” We have not spoken about it since.

  15. Rich Daniel says:

    I was 12-years-old at the time of the crash. I was at my grandmother’s house playing outside on a tire swing below a magnificent oak tree. I’ll never forget the sound of sirens for what seemed like hours, speeding off to who knows where. They droned on and on and on…

  16. Trina Sylvester says:

    I was senior in high school. I heard Monica Kaufman say that an airplace had crashed into the New Hope Elementary School. My mom and I looked at each other in disbelief. Fortunately, that was reported in error. For the next several weeks, it was all that was talked about in our community. So many times I have heard someone say, “If I hadn’t been delayed I would have been right in that spot where the plane went down.”

  17. mike davis says:

    I also grew up in Paulding County. I was almost 17-years-old at the time of the crash. I had begun to volunteer with Union Volunteer Fire Department (the west side of Paulding County). I was working for my dad delivering parts in Atlanta the afternoon Flight 242 crashed. When news broke that a plane had crashed in New Hope, I knew I was too far away to respond. But I watched as ambulance after ambulance from Grady, Metro, and DeKalb EMS responded emergency toward Paulding County.

    I responded as soon as I could to the crash site, only to be turned away. The Paulding County Deputy would not let me in, even though I identified myself with Union Fire Department. He cited my age and not being 18 years of age. As I looked down Highway 92, I could see the destruction left behind by the crash.

    I went on to become a full-time firefighter and EMT with Douglas County Fire Department. Some of my co-workers did respond that fateful day. They do not talk about it much. We in the public safety field see so much, especially traumatic injuries. I know the people that responded to Southern Flight 242 still remember the things they saw. We never forget those memories.

    I went through New Hope not long ago with my wife, and my memories reflected back to my younger days. My wife is from Colorado, so she did not know about the plane crash. I began to tell her of the history. So much has changed in this small community. It looks more like a small city compared to the crossroads it once was. I can still see the images played back in my mind like it was yesterday.

    I want to close with my prayers going out to everyone involved that day.

  18. Kim says:

    I was 17 at the time and was working at my mother’s dress shop on Hwy 92 in Douglasville. I remember hearing and seeing all of the emergency vehicles racing up the highway heading towards New Hope. We knew that something bad had happened …

  19. Roger Leggett says:

    I was one of the firefighters there that day, and to this day, I feel that both pilots are heroes. That DC-9 was put down on the road perfectly with no power, and the skid marks were centered right on the yellow line. If not for the location of Newman’s store so close to the road, with the wings hitting the gas pumps and the building, they may have well landed the plane safely.

  20. Donna Smith says:

    My husband lived on 92 Spur about a mile from the crash site. He told me he had planned on stopping at Newman’s store for a Coke, but the lot was crowded so he headed on home. He opened the door and flipped on the light switch, and the light came on and then went right back off because the plane had just hit the light poles. He would have been killed if he had stopped.

  21. My pastor’s wife’s brother was a captain (I believe the chief) of the Fire Dept in Dallas. His first name was Johnny. When his sister heard of the crash, they headed that way. I beieve he lived in that neighborhood and she was afraid for him. She told me about some of the horrendous things she saw that day. I am sure the memories haunt them to this day–they would have haunted me. BTW, her brother and family were fine.

  22. My god-father/uncle died on this flight. I remember my mom telling me about the crash when I was 6 yrs old. I also remember the Evening (world) News and our local (Saginaw, MI) news broadcast. He was on his way up to Michigan for a visit.

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