“Anatomy of a Crash Scene” – Action Photographs taken after the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 – by Clifford Davids

FA Sandy Purl at the 20th reunion in 1997

Flight Attendant Sandy Purl at the Southern Airways Flight 242 memorial service in 1997

Moments before the co-pilot of Southern Airways Flight 242 had lowered his landing gear and touched down dead center on a narrow strip of highway in New Hope, GA, the first responders had begun to gear up for the fiery rescue. Bobby Bruce, an employee of the city of Dallas, GA, had been quietly working atop Cemetery Hill when he saw the crippled jetliner plunging to earth. He immediately sent an emergency alert from the radio in his truck to the dispatcher at the nearby Dallas Police Department. It was the initial warning in what became a fiery tsunami that completely overwhelmed the rural community.

The Dallas Police Department contacted the Dallas Fire Department, alerting Assistant Fire Chief Elsberry at the Standard Oil gas station where he worked. The nearby Union City Fire Department was also notified.

Principal M.A. Hornsby of the New Hope Elementary School was in the school parking lot when he saw the crippled aircraft making a forced landing. He rushed back to his office to call the authorities, but by then the telephone poles had been destroyed in the crash. He ran back outside and flagged down a car with a citizens band radio, asking the driver to call in the accident on the emergency frequency.

New Hope VFD Chief John Clayton witnessed the crash while standing in his front yard, located just up the street from the fire department building and directly across the road from where the plane came to a jarring halt. He took immediate charge, and directed the initial firefighting, evacuation, and treatment of the injured. His assistant chief, Johnnie Wigley, suffered burns on his back and both of his arms as he heroically ran into the flaming aircraft to evacuate the survivors. Their men, who had just installed a new water hose on one of their pumpers, were the first on the scene. They extinguished the fires within thirty minutes, and were later honored by the governor for their heroism that day.

Dr. Jerry Worthy, the FAA Medical Examiner who happened to be in the area at the time, arrived at the scene and took charge of the triage efforts. He used a vacant warehouse in Dallas as the makeshift morgue, putting a clerk from the local hospital in charge. A total of 72 people died from the crash, including nine people on the ground–but there were also 22 lucky passengers who survived, including both of the flight attendants.

Within 20 minutes of the accident, a virtual battalion of first responders had converged on the scene from nearby communities—police and fire departments, ambulance and civil defense personnel, local citizens, and the “just lookers.” At least 48 ambulances responded from sixteen separate locations, including three hospitals and the nearby Dobbins AFB. Survivors were sent to five separate hospitals by ambulance, school bus, and helicopter.

When Cobb County Fire Chief David Hilton arrived 30 minutes after the crash, he estimated that there were over 250 “sightseers” in the area disrupting the rescue effort. He assumed immediate control of the scene upon Chief Clayton’s request, and ordered that the area be roped off. Chief Hilton then directed the rescue trucks to move the remains of the smoldering cockpit and the forward/mid-cabin so they could search for the remaining victims. It was controlled chaos, but they got it done. Incredibly, all of the survivors were taken to area hospitals within the hour.

The 11 photographs below were taken immediately after the crash by Joe Parker, a third generation newspaperman who still works at the Dallas New Era, the local newspaper that was founded less then two decades after the end of Civil War. The Parker family has directed the newspaper since 1924, and it is still published every week.

Mr. Parker has worn many hats over his long career, including one as the crime scene photographer for the local Sheriff’s Department. The man has a steady hand and a sharp eye behind the camera. He was also one of the first photographers to arrive at the crash scene in New Hope on the afternoon of April 4, 1977, and the iconic black-and-white pictures he took that day still resonate. Many thanks, Joe.

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–THE CRASH SCENE IN NEW HOPE, GA–

–April 4, 1977–

View up Highway 92 Spur (now Dallas-Acworth Hwy of crash landing site

The view up Highway 92 Spur (now Dallas-Acworth Hwy) of the crash site in New Hope, GA

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View of car wreckage in front of Newmans Store

Looking down Highway 92 Spur towards Dallas, GA, from in front of Newman’s Store. The photo was taken while Joe Parker was standing on top of the Union Fire Department’s fire knocker.

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The flames consume Newman's Store

Damaged electrical wires were said to have ignited the gasoline from the broken pumps at Newman’s Store

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Putting out the flames in Newman's Store.

Putting out the flames at Newman’s. The photograph was taken in front of Chief Clayton’s house, looking north.

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Members of the New Hope VFD putting out the crash fires

Members of the New Hope VFD putting out the crash fires. The battered tail cone is in the foreground.

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View of the burned and destroyed Newmans Store

A grim scene afterwards at Newman’s Store. Everyone inside miraculously escaped alive.

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The burned remains of Southern Airways Flight 242

New Hope VFD member hosing down the wreckage of Flight 242

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First responders searching for survivors

Firefighters and first responders searching for survivors

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First responders on the scene directly after the crash

First responders on the scene directly after the crash

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The remains of the tail section

The remains of the tail section

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First responder walking away in shock from what he has just seen at the crash site

Walking away in shock from the crash site of Southern Airways Flight 242

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17 Responses to “Anatomy of a Crash Scene” – Action Photographs taken after the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 – by Clifford Davids

  1. Maye Wiggins says:

    It just goes to show you how important our first responders are. God bless them all. Good story.

    • cbdavids says:

      Thanks Maye, and how right you are. The first responders were both compassionate and fearless—some of them even entered the burning aircraft to help the firefighters carry the injured survivors to safety. Everybody just pitched in wherever and however they could.

      Neighbors gathered bed sheets, pillow cases, and towels to cover the victims and control their bleeding. They also assisted the survivors who were able to walk and brought them into their homes to provide first aid. Others in the area carried in 4×8 sheets of plywood and helped to transport the badly injured victims to the cars, buses, and ambulances arriving on the scene. The whole community pulled together.

  2. jolee kitchen says:

    Great story! Joe Parker is my dad :)

  3. tifferjean says:

    So proud of that Town. Thanks for sharing, Cliff.

  4. Cyndy Smith says:

    I remember when this happened, all the ambulances flying past the house. These are some amazing, poignant photographs, they say so much about that tragic day.

  5. Suzanna says:

    Wonderful, thanks for sharing Cliff:) Joe is also my dad! Best, Suzanna

  6. Robin Gilbert says:

    Beautiful photos of a horrific scene. They preserve the great efforts of the emergency crews, some of whom could easily have been victims themselves or family members of victims. They put aside their personal safety to do all they could for strangers in peril.

    The New Hope community is proof that people can heal, grow, learn, and remember–the human spirit is strong.

  7. Danny Echols says:

    Sixth picture down, on the bottom right you can see a tarp, and under this tarp lay the bodies of one of the young mothers with her small son that were killed in the crash. I found them there and then covered them up. I am also in the photo with my back to the camera in front of the burned building, wearing a baseball cap.

    • cbdavids says:

      Mr. Echols–Your intimate knowledge of the sixth photograph, as both a firefighter and a first responder, adds a tragic new depth to its detail. Thank you for sharing this information, and thank you for all of the help you have given me throughout this project.

  8. Sadie Burkhalter Hurst says:

    Cliff–Thank you for making the effort to put all of this together. I’ve learned more because of your efforts. We all did what we could that day, and since then many of us have chosen to use the experience to better our lives and continue to help others. I saw the tragedy, but I also saw miracles taking place during that time. It may not be easy for some to know that “good things” came from this, but the airline industry changed the way pilots were trained, and emergency groups were established to help families and survivors after something like this. Those were good things. Thank you again.

    Sadie

  9. I was a first responder to the crash on that day. I was an Emergency Medical Technician working with Norman Medford Funeral Home Ambulance Service in Marietta. We sent 2 ambulances and 6 EMTS to the scene. It wasa surreal experience for a EMT who had only been licensed for about three months. I have written about that day in some college papers. I will attempt to locate the story as I would like to contribute to your “Oral History Project” on Southern Airlines Flight 242. I had detailed the response, radio communications and our arrival on scene. Later in the evening, I had momentary contact with the wife of the pilot (I believe) and Southern Airlines executives at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.

  10. Robert Koryciak says:

    I also responded as a rookie EMT for Norman Medford Funeral Home. I had left the office to run a errand, and when I returned, both ambulance units, and my brother Bill, had left. I asked the company secretary Inez Fortenberry where everyone was, and she told me “A Plane Crash in New Hope!” Up until that moment, I didn’t ever remember hearing about the town! I ran to the supply cabinet and grabbed as much emergency equipment (dressings/splints/airways etc…) as I could carry, including two cases of normal saline IV fluid/tubing, and loaded it into my car next to my firefighting gear from the Woodstock V.F.D.

    I arrived by car from the west shortly after the survivors had been transported. Only then did I realize the magnitude of the accident. My job then became search and recovery! As I approached Newman’ s Store, I saw a small station wagon completely consumed by fire, and smashed to about 2 feet thick–the remains of several persons were inside. I understand women and children were in the vehicle at the gas pump.

    As I walked toward the crash site, I was meet by Medford’s 1972 Suburban Ambulance with my brother Bill and Danny Gravitt inside, transporting two bodies. I said I have normal saline for the victims, and he said “We don’t need it, all survivors were already transported!” I handed the box to my brother, who was shocked, as he thought I had stolen it from another ambulance service! I went to the main site and spent the evening searching and recovering bodies. During the recovery, the sky to the west turned a bright “green and bronze” in color, and we were soon hit by a vicious thunderstorm with hail. I was glad to have some protection because I had my firefighting gear on. It was such an unbelievable event, especially for a new medic!

    I eventually went to work as an EMT in Michigan, then returned to Georgia and worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic for Douglas County Fire just south of the crash- and eventually to Houston Texas Fire Department, where I have been for 34 and a half years! I have (thankfully) never been to any emergency scene since April 4, 1977 that was worse then that day! I pray for the Lost from that day!

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