“The Daughter of Southern Airways Flight 242’s First Officer Finally Speaks Out” – by Clifford Davids

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. returns home from Vietnam

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. returns home from the war in Vietnam

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. was a natural born aviator. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1966, he joined the U. S. Navy and received his flight training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. He was assigned to the carrier USS Hancock, and he flew over 100 combat missions during the war in Vietnam. He also provided air support for both ground combat forces and troop rescue operations. Keele earned numerous bronze and gold Air Medals for his prowess, as well as a Navy Commendation Medal for “heroic achievement as a pilot of jet aircraft while attached to Attack Squadron 212 aboard the USS Hancock.” The man could flat-out fly an airplane.

Keele left the Navy in 1973 and joined Southern Airways, a regional airline operating out of Atlanta, GA. On April 4, 1977, he was the first officer and pilot at the controls aboard Southern Airways Flight 242 when it lost both engines in a hail storm and went down in New Hope, GA – a total of 72 people were killed in that tragic accident. Although he survived the crash, he died while being air-lifted to the nearby Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, GA. Lyman was only 34 years old when he was buried a few days later in San Pedro, CA. He was survived by his wife Cathleen and their two daughters; 7-year-old Tiffany, and 2-year-old Monica.

Several months after I started this oral history project I was contacted by a man named Thad Morrison. Ten years earlier he had been involved in planning a memorial to the crash victims, and he offered to share some of his research with me. I drove out to his rambling farm house just outside of New Hope, and he gave me a box full of items which included NTSB crash site maps, numerous eyewitness accounts, and his correspondence with Keele’s daughter Tiffany. Their exchange was insightful.

She wrote about her parents, describing how they first met on Catalina Island when they were both young teengers. They dated throughout high school and college, and were then married just before Keele joined the Navy. The young family moved around from base to base during the early years. Her father did two tours in Vietnam, and Tiffany recalled that her mother suffered from splitting migraine headaches because of her concern for his safety. She also wrote that her dad was a “life of the party kind of guy,” who loved to surf the California waves and ride horses when he wasn’t in the cockpit.

I decided to drop her a line, and she responded immediately. She wanted to know how to help with raising funds for a much needed monument at the Southern 242 crash site, so I asked her to write an letter to the New Hope community about her life after the crash. She e-mailed her response to me the next day, and I present it here in its entirety.

–Clifford B. Davids

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The remains of the cockpit after the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242

First responders search for survivors after the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242

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“YOUR DAD WENT TO FLY PLANES IN HEAVEN…”

By Tiffany Keele Grana

I will never forget those eight words. It was what the pastor’s wife told me on that windy and rainy night when I was sent to stay at our neighbor’s house because my mom had to leave so quickly….I don’t really remember seeing my mom for a while after she left that night. I do remember I went to school the next day. It was an odd day because I was no longer just Tiffany – I was the girl whose father had just died.

Kids kept coming up to me asking if it was true. “Your dad died in a plane crash, and he was flying the plane?”

“But it wasn’t his fault,” I told them.

“Well he was the one flying the plane, so whose fault was it?” they asked.

Lyman Keele, with his wife and daughter Tiffany (Photo ca. 1975)

Lyman W. Keele, Jr. with his wife Cathleen and Tiffany (Photo ca. 1975)

So – at seven years old it was a bit easier to just drop that subject. It’s what families and adults did back in the 1970’s when they dealt with death. Thank goodness that’s not the case now. Now we use special words that help young children move on and process their grief. I wish someone had used some of those special words with me back then.

I waited every day for years for my dad to come back from the airport after his “layover” (that’s what he called it when he was gone). He would take me to McDonalds at 8 A.M. to get a cheeseburger because his days and nights were flipped. I cherish those moments. I hold on to every memory and every photo I can get my hands on. I remember him flying over our house in a small plane he rented for the day–I waited in the driveway all morning for him to do the flyover. I also remember once he flew us in a seaplane to Catalina, the small island off the coast of Southern California, because that was the place where my parents first met.

His father was also an aviator. My grandfather was a pilot for TWA–back when flying was done in style. He was tragically killed in a helicopter accident in Texas. My dad used to proclaim, “All of the Keeles get a pilot’s license issued with their birth certificate!”

Back in high school my dad and his brother Ken would fly to NYC or Paris for 3 days because the flight was as exciting as the destination itself. They took every moment they could to go up in the air. He always told us how safe air travel was and that sixty planes take off and land every second.

The irony about the Southern Airways crash was that my mother was always extremely worried about Lyman and his combat tours in Vietnam. The tours were always very stressful for her—it was the constant thought of him being taken prisoner or blown out of the sky. I remember he tried to reassure her by saying, “I have it easy–the Marines are on the ground getting shot at, I’m just up in the sky doing my thing–and I do it well!”

Landing a fighter plane on an aircraft carrier (my dad was on the USS Hancock) is one of the hardest things to do in aviation–tougher than being in a dogfight with another plane. So after the war was over, my mom told me she was relieved and thrilled that my dad was flying with a commercial airline–how ironic! Flying was always his first love, and now it had become his day job….so life was good.

Keele with his mother Betty and younger brother Ken

Keele with his mother Betty and younger brother Ken (Photo ca. 1975)

All of my Dad’s friends told me he was the most talented pilot they knew – and coming from his peers (who were also pilots) that meant a lot. I didn’t know much about the crash until about three years ago, and that was also when I started to process my grief. How can that be that it took me so long?

Well, if you stuff it down for 30 years, at some point it will bubble back up. I saw a movie with a “father/daughter” theme in 1998, and I became hysterical, inconsolable, intensely crying, and in a complete fit because it hit so close to home. I knew at the time that I should address my grief, but I just wasn’t able to do it.

I remember my mom asking me when I was headed off to USC if I needed some grief counseling because that is what people did in those days, and I said, “NO. I’m fine–its been 10 years…” She apologized for not getting me counseling when I was younger, but it just wasn’t done then.

It was when my oldest son Trent Lyman wanted to know about his grandfather and namesake that I decided to read a few articles about Flight 242. I learned that there were four “on the ground” errors that lead to the crash:

(1) There was no up to the minute weather service via fax–Delta and Eastern had that but not Southern; (2) The phone line into the back up weather service was busy, so they made a judgment call to send up Flight 242; (3) The loss of both engines was unprecedented, so they told the pilots to throttle up–NOT to throttle down. Throttling down would have cleared out the hail and allowed a restart; and (4) They were not given a vector for a safe place to land by the air traffic controller–and there WAS a vector within the distance they were able to coast the plane once they lost the engines.

The Grana family: Trevor, Tony, Tiffany, and Trent

The Grana family in 2012 (L-R): Trevor, Anthony, Tiffany, and Trent Lyman

So on the afternoon of April 4, 1977, during two record storms, my dad’s plane crashed on that highway in New Hope, GA, and changed that community forever.

In April of 2011 I finally got some grief counseling. I finally realized that I had never cried about the loss of my father until I was sitting in a therapist’s office. Yep, over 30 years and I never shed one tear. When a parent dies, the appropriate word to use with children is either death or died or dead–to say “passed away” isn’t final and doesn’t help the child to adjust. Grief for kids five to eight years old manifests itself in denial–I only heard, “Your dad went to fly planes in heaven…” My seven-year-old self waited quite a while for him to return so we could go to McDonalds for that cheeseburger.

To this day my charity affiliation is with Grief Counseling. I am involved with Camp Erin–a camp where kids who have lost a parent or sibling can go for a weekend of fun and healing. Grief shapes people, and I must admit it shaped me. Until I got the help I needed, I was a little colder, a little more aloof, and a little more distant from everyone.

I was always very uncomfortable when any type of plane crash made the headlines. I would even take the day off from work—I was never at ease with the topic. The way we handle and deal with grief today has changed, and I sincerely pray that the people of the New Hope community and Paulding County were able to process their own grief and also move forward.

I am certain my dad used the best tools he had available at the time to safely land that plane and avoid injuring those on the ground. He was a skilled pilot, talented and precise. I am so sorry for the impact the crash had on your community.

I just want to say thank you to everybody there – thank you for pulling together that day, and for doing such an amazing job afterwards. I know my dad thanks you too.

–Tiffany Keele Grana

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 – The Keeles go to Washington, D.C. –

Newt Gingrich with Cathleen Keele and her daughters (L-R) Monica and Tiffany in May of 1977

Rep. Newt Gingrich meets with Cathleen Keele and her daughters (L-R) Monica and Tiffany in May of 1979. Cathleen was in D.C. to accept an award for heroism from the Air Lines Pilot Assn. on behalf of her husband.

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23 Responses to “The Daughter of Southern Airways Flight 242’s First Officer Finally Speaks Out” – by Clifford Davids

  1. Monica says:

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Richard Buchman says:

    Wow, that is a touching letter. It is nice to see that Tiffany has proceeded with a happy and emotionally healthy life after such a tragic event. The passion and compassion that Mr. Davids shows toward this tragic event–one that is virtually unknown outside of New Hope and Paulding County, is inspiring. I am a born and raised Georgian that knew nothing of this story until I read about it here. Since then, I have found that a good friend of mine lost his family members on the ground due to the crash. I hope this helps all the families involved with their emotional well being.

    Thank you Cliff for helping keep their memories alive.

  3. Alice says:

    Sharing the father she knew through this letter, and outlining the four ground-control-errors that most assuredly led to the crash, must have been so therapeutic for Ms. Grana. I think sometimes the public has a tendency, whether we say it out loud or not, to blame either the plane’s pilot or mechanic for crashes. (Nowadays of course there’s always the possibility of terrorism, with solution in sight for that.)

    I’m in full agreement also that euphemisms for death’s finality is not helpful for any survivor and especially for children. How wonderful that Tiffany is so committed to grief counseling, and sad that it took so long for her to grieve. Yes, her father would be as proud of her now as she is of him. Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. sam bishop says:

    I was the Director of Security for Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Georgia. I assisted removing the victims from helicopters as they arrived from the crash scene. Your father arrived, but unfortunately he did not make it alive. His remains were treated with great respect and I do not recall anyone blaming the pilots. I do remember the pilots being praised for almost landing a powerless commercial plane. They came very close to pulling it off. This is a day I will never forget. God bless you and your family.

    Sam Bishop

  5. Sid Cook says:

    Thank you, Tiffany. That is a wonderful way to remember your dad. He was so proud of his family. He was a good friend and a great pilot. Melba and I will always cherish the memories of our fun times together.
    God bless all of you!
    Sid Cook

  6. Sadie Burkhalter Hurst says:

    It is sad to realize how much you suffered as child. You are right, counseling was not available in those days. Many of the passengers and their families needed it. Those of us on the ground also needed it. My children, Stan, Steve and Eddie Burkhalter were there at the house when the crash occurred and they needed it. Your needs and our needs are the reason I have chosen to get a masters’ degree in counseling–even at 74 it is never too late!

    In all these years I’ve never heard anyone blame your dad or Captain McKenzie for the crash-and I’ve probably met with far more people who were there than most. If you feel it would help for you to visit the crash site, I will make that possible for you-it often helps. Many others have also waited years to deal with the affects of this crash. You are not alone. Your father was not alone that day either–there were many of us there to help those we could-unfortunately he did not need us.

    –Sadie Burkhalter Hurst

  7. Tiffany says:

    Thank you all for sharing your memories and for your kind words…I am so grateful to the town for pulling together like it did.

    • Phyllis Inzina Reid says:

      I also lost my father in the crash when I was 16. I’d like you to know that I never once over the past 38 years considered “fault.” I only missed my Dad. I am sure your father and the other pilot did everything they knew to land safely so that everyone could go home to their families. I am happy for you that you have recently been able to process your loss. Fortunately for me, my family and I counseled each other. There is my Mom (still living at 90), and I am the youngest of six children. We all handled the loss differently, but fortunately for me I was old enough to know the reality of my loss and was blessed to have had a great relationship with my Dad to help me through the grief.

      I read everything on the crash, including the NTSB report within just a few years of the crash. I have always been able to comfortably talk about the crash, and although I have not yet felt the need to visit the crash site, I am so glad that the memorial takes place for those who do benefit from it. Take care, Tiffany.

  8. Lisa says:

    What a touching story. It is so important to grieve and properly give in to the terrible pain that aches so deep in ones heart, when faced with a sudden loss of a close friend or family member. I am so glad tears have finally fallen, and given way to healing!

  9. Cherry Waddell says:

    Tiffany,

    My family and I are from the community of New Hope and remember that day very well. Your Dad and Captain McKenzie have always been spoken of in terms of awe for the incredible job they both did in bringing that DC-9 down without power! They came so very close to making it. I still live in Paulding County and have spoken with many people in New Hope over the years about that day and have never once heard anyone blame your Dad or Captain McKenzie. Please be assured that the words expressing anything other than respect, awe and honor have never been spoken in New Hope.

    My Great Aunt, Berlie Mae Craton was killed on the ground in front of her sister’s house as the plane came down. Our family mourned her death as well as your Dad’s and all 72 who were killed that day–but we never blamed anyone.

    I hope you can come to New Hope one day. I would love to meet you. You are a remarkable testament to your Dad’s life.

    Cherry Waddell

  10. Paige Griffith says:

    Thank you so much for your story. I was also 7 years old when my father, Cecil Griffith, was killed on Flight 242. I relate to much of what you are talking about. Grief is a funny thing and everyone deals with it in different ways. I feel the loss of my father everyday as I am sure you do. I have started a memorial page on Facebook and linked to your post there.

    Here is the link if anyone would like to take a look. I would love it if people would post their stories here along with any photos you may have.

    https://www.facebook.com/SouthernAirways242MemorialPage

  11. Robin says:

    This story brings such a tear to my eyes. Everyone’s loss is so deep, so poignant. I am not from New Hope, nor have I been in a plane crash or lost a family member due to one. I cannot imagine how it feels, and the constant reminder with planes flying over our heads 24 hours a day would make it difficult to escape. I have always been thrilled to look up and marvel at the miracle of flight, especially our amazing pilots in their military aircraft.

    What really brings me to tears is the story of a child who has lost her parent and how it was handled. I understood those feelings so well. I have been that child who one day was your normal self and the next you were the child whose father had died. You feel like a different person, that you stand out and not in a good way. People will see you and treat you differently, and they do.

    No one really knew what to say, how to act around a 9 year old whose life had so utterly changed on Valentines Day in 1968. I remember thinking there must be something more than hearing “It is God’s will” and “Your Dad is dead” from the adults around me. This simply made no sense to a child and was no comfort at all. The first was well meant, from relatives dealing with their own grief. The other was said in anger from a neighbor.

    No counseling was offered, and no one tried to talk with me about how I felt or how to handle my feelings. My mother had 3 children to raise on her own at a time when most Moms stayed at home. I know that Tiffany and the other “children of the tragedy” from that day know these feelings and have dealt with them in their own way. You are different, you are changed and you need help dealing with that. Today, children receive the counseling they need–I am so glad this has changed.

    • Tiffany says:

      Robin, I am so sorry for your loss, and I hope your healing journey started earlier than mine did. Take care and God Bless.

  12. Steve Palmer says:

    Tiffany – I was a student at UGA when the flight went down. One of the student security monitors (pre-law students) at the library said that her father flew for Southern and made the remark that her dad said that if anybody could make a dead stick landing it would be your dad and Captain McKenzie. I was amazed at how determined they were to get down safely. Bravo Zulu to you for working through this and Bravo Zulu to your dad.

  13. Bob Johnson says:

    Tiffany,

    I don’t know if you’ll get this, but your dad was one of my best friends at NAS Kingsville, Texas. I lived in an apartment down the stairs from your dad, mom, AND YOU !!! Now the shocker . . . I baby sat you for a couple of times. I sat on your upper patio one night with your dad and a few others shooting bottle rockets to the other side of the court yard at people on their patio. I have some GOOD stories about your father that nobody has probably ever heard. There wasn’t a better A-4 pilot in the Navy or Marine Corp. I hope to hear from you. Every few years I do research hoping to contact someone in the family.

  14. Tiffany says:

    Bob – so nice to get your response. I am thrilled to hear from anyone who knew my father and would love to connect. My email is tonytiffanytrent@msn.com. Please reach out and perhaps we can exchange #’s and talk.

  15. Kim Bowers says:

    You may not remember me, Tiffany, but we played together as kids in Kimberly Mill. (I think it was called?) I recall my mother telling me about you losing your dad and I remember very clearly feeling so badly for you and not having any idea what to do or say. Nothing like that had ever happened in my little world, I guess. So I hope I wasn’t one of those kids who said something all wrong to you. Also I have fond memories of both of your parents. So I’ll say it now… I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Fondly, your former neighbor–Kimberly Rudolph Bowers

    • Tiffany says:

      Kimberly,
      I do remember you! Are you still in GA? Thanks for reaching out and I was grateful for your friendship. Hope you are well.

      Back then nobody knew what to say, and I was happy to have close friends in the neighborhood. Thanks again.

  16. Clif Walker says:

    Tiffany, I read your letter about your hardship dealing with the death of your dad. My eyes were filled with tears after your description of how you had to deal with your sorrow. I sincerely hope you are doing well, and the picture of your family is beautiful.

    I have a different perspective of your dad and how I knew him. I knew Lyman from Southern Airways when I was a captain on the M-404 and he was my co-pilot. I remember him well because we had a lot in common, and he and I were friends as well as fellow pilots. We laughed and talked about flying and the days passed quickly because we had fun.

    The strange part of the story happens after we flew together and I had moved on to fly out of Miami, Florida. My wife and I were flying back to Texas to visit her mom, and after takeoff from Atlanta I looked out of the window and commented to my wife about the horrific weather to the northwest of Atlanta. I didn’t know until I arrived in Dallas that there was a plane crash. I found out it was a DC-9 over Rome GA. I also found out who the pilots were–I had flown with Bill McKenzie as his co-pilot. I was devastated when I heard Lyman was the first officer.

    I have never forgotten this accident for several reasons, but most of all it was because I knew Lyman well and I know that he was a pilot’s pilot! His piloting skills were above-average, and he was in total control of the plane at all times. It was always a pleasure to fly with him, and I believe he felt the same way about me. He did a wonderful job of getting the plane on the ground.

    I have thought of him many times. I still fly even though I am retired from the airlines, and my joy now is a 1944 DC-3/C-47. It’s so much fun to fly a vintage airplane. I would love to have Lyman sitting next to me, showing off his skills.

  17. Rachel Van Camp says:

    Hello Tiffany,

    I am writing to say I knew your dad in college in Reno. He was a very sweet person. He was working as a waiter in a high end restaurant to help support himself through school. I helped him wash his car one Saturday. I was shocked to learn only today (6/10/16) of his early death. Certainly he lived an exemplary life as short as it was.

    Sincerely,
    Rachel Van Camp

  18. Sylvia Jackson says:

    Tears fell reading this. I too, was affected by this crash. My best friends, Emily and Earle Griffin, were on the plane heading to Massachusetts to bury Earle’s mom. To this day when I speak of them to anyone or read anything about this, tears fall. I pray for them, their children, their families.

    I pray for all who were on the plane who lived and went through months and years of healing. It is something I could never forget, nor would I want to forget – them, ever. They touched my life in so many ways.

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