About Southern Airways Flight 242

Cathleen Keele arriving at Kennestone Hospital after the crash

Cathleen Keele, wife of the co-pilot, arriving at Kennestone

I first learned about the tragic crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 in November of 2008. Kennestone Hospital had just dedicated their new history exhibit, and right next to old Dr. Hagood’s worn leather medical bag was a black & white photograph of a badly burned patient being wheeled into their emergency room in Marietta, GA.

I questioned one of the veteran nurses, and she told me it showed an injured survivor being medivaced in from the Southern Airways 242 crash site. She said the plane had crashed and burned after trying to land on a two-lane highway in rural New Hope, Georgia, a small community located 35 miles northwest of Atlanta.

I had just moved to Atlanta from Asheville, N.C. I was a newly married man with a beautiful wife, two teenage step children, and a challenging job at Kennestone. But every time I walked past the history exhibit I wondered about the injured survivor. Who was he? Who else had survived the fiery plane crash? Why did the aircraft crash in the first place? The nurse told me that 72 people had died that day, but I was so busy with my new job that I didn’t have the time to pursue the story. Plus, the stock market had just crashed and we were in the middle of a severe drought. The world seemed to be shifting underfoot, so I just let it drop.

Four years passed. And then in the winter of 2012 I met a volunteer at work who told me about a steamer trunk she had inherited from her mother in 1993 that contained her great uncle’s Civil War correspondence – letters which her family had held onto for almost 150 years. She allowed me to publish some of them, and while I was doing research for that project I read about the Battle of New Hope Church in May of 1864. I thought, “Can this be the same New Hope?” But I was completely focused on the Civil War project, so I once again put Southern 242 on the back burner.

It wasn’t until March of 2013 that all of the pieces for this oral history project fell into place. I had been talking with a good friend about how the community of New Hope had been the site of both a bloody Civil War battle in 1864 and a deadly airplane crash in 1977. He put me in contact with a co-worker of his from the area, who then invited me to the upcoming memorial service marking the 36th anniversary of the crash.

I took my first trip out to the New Hope on March 24, 2013, and I never looked back. It was the beginning of a journey that completely consumed me. This air-disaster has not been an easy story to tell, but I have done my best. I am also proud of the role that Kennestone played in the aftermath of that horrific event.

Southern 242 crashed in New Hope, GA on a Monday, April 4, 1977 at 4:18 PM, and the Kennestone Hospital disaster plan was put into effect just twelve minutes later. The first patient was delivered by military helicopter to the emergency room just after 5 PM. A total of four patients were medivaced in, and the remaining 11 victims came by ambulance. Of the 15 patients received, two were DOA, one died in the emergency area, and seven were sent directly to the burn unit at Grady Hospital. The rest were admitted.

The April 1977 issue of KenneGram, the Kennestone Hospital newsletter, describes how the hospital staff rose to the occasion and responded to the tragic crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 – the worst aviation disaster in Georgia history.

— Clifford B. Davids (March 2013)



Survivor Jim Phillips

Survivor Jim Phillips

Disasters are events crowded with varying emotions and reactions. The scenes that played out at Kennestone Hospital after the tragic airplane crash of April 4 encompassed all of these emotions.

The most touching moment at the hospital came with the arrival of Cathleen Keele, wife of the co-pilot Lyman Keele, Jr. Her arrival in the emergency area brought the reality of the tragedy to the busy medical staff.

Outside, teams of Kennestone employees whisked the patients from the helicopter directly to the recovery room for special burn treatment. The burden of safely transporting the burn patients weighed heavily on the hospital employees.

Prior to the arrival by helicopter, the Kennestone staff had waited anxiously for the landing while fighting the wind. Employees, doctors, and volunteers all stood by the emergency entrance…waiting and wondering.

Thankful to be alive, Kennestone patient and survivor Jim Phillips told his harrowing tale the following morning. One of the least injured, Phillips returned home to Huntsville, Alabama a few days later, relieved to have been one of the 22 survivors.

Like a company of well-trained actors, the Kennestone team moved through the difficult scenes with certainty after the repeated disaster rehearsals and the anxiety of opening night. The hospital was truly “on stage” for the entire world to observe. When the final curtain dropped on this human tragedy, many tears were shed from fatigue, compassion, and relief.

— The Editor


–Kennestone Hospital–

Waiting for the first patient to arrive at Kennestone Hospital

Waiting in the ER parking lot at Kennestone Hospital for the Southern 242 survivors to arrive


Hospital staff rushing a Southern 242 crash survivor from the helicopter into the Emergency Room


31 Responses to About Southern Airways Flight 242

  1. Sid Cook says:

    The night of the crash my wife Melba and I went to Cathy and Lyman’s home, which was close to ours. We picked up Cathy and drove her to Kennestone Hospital. As I recall it was dark by then. The rain was coming down so hard it was unnerving. I knew that this was the weather that had sent their DC-9 down. Someone at the hospital asked me if I would come and identify the body.
    I did. It was Lyman.
    Bad Night.

  2. David Lea says:

    I had been with Southern Airways for only three years, but had already met and worked with such a great bunch of people. The airline was at that time still recognized as a regional air carrier so our total number of employees was under three thousand system wide. That made for getting to know quite a number of those employees quite well. I still believe it was a great family and the loss of our two pilots as well as so many passengers and citizens of New Hope was heartbreaking.

    The story of Kennestone Hospital is a new one to me. My belated thanks to all those dedicated professionals for saving and comforting the wounded and their families.

    –David Lea (retired from the airlines in December 2011 after four mergers)

    • cbdavids says:

      Thank you for your comments. The medical care that the survivors received directly after the accident was truly a group effort.

      There were five area hospitals that treated the injured survivors after the crash: Paulding Memorial Hospital (the closest to the site) received the majority of the casualties–three were DOA, three were admitted, and most of the rest were immediately transported to other facilities like Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Sam Howell Memorial Hospital in Cartersville, and Floyd Memorial Hospital in Rome.

  3. Richard says:

    Another wonderfully written “moment in time” not to be forgotten.

  4. Lillie Wiggins says:

    I have to agree with Richard, this is truly another great story. WOW!!!!! Keep them coming. I might have another one for you if you call me. My phone crashed and I lost your number.

  5. rosered says:

    Let us not forget the wonderful job Paulding Hospital did, especially for it being so “small.” From the doctors who went to the scene to triage to the doctors waiting for the patients in the ER and the Paulding Emergency personnel that did such a wonderful job.

    • cbdavids says:

      So true! Paulding Memorial Hospital in Dallas, GA was notified within minutes of the crash and immediately dispatched medical personnel and ambulances to the scene. The first survivors were brought in 12 minutes later. Their quick response saved many lives that day.

    • My father, Dr. John Covington, was one of the doctors in the ER at Paulding Hospital. Afterwards, he went about the grim task of trying to identify the deceased at the makeshift morgue.

  6. Phyllis Inzina Reid says:

    I was 16 and expecting my father to return from a business trip, but instead answered the phone in the wee hours of the morning after the crash to hear a Southern Airways representative calling to inform us that my father (father of 6) was one of the victims on Flight 242. It was surreal and a pain I will never forget! We miss him dearly, grateful for the time we did have with him, and happy for those who survived.

    • cbdavids says:

      Thank you for sharing a very painful memory. I hope that you and your family will consider coming to the 37th reunion next year and join the rest of us as we celebrate the lives of the victims of Flight 242.

  7. John & Jean Anchors says:

    My wife Jean and I were friends with Lyman and Cathy through our church (Grace Evangelical) in College Park, Ga. where we lived. We were with Lyman, Cathy, and the girls just a few weeks prior to the tragedy at our weekly bible study, when Lyman received a phone call notifying him he had been elevated from props to jets. We could not imagine that night with all the excitement for him, how our lives would change due to that phone call.

    We also remember the afternoon of the crash due to the very bad weather coming through the southeast, and hearing the news of a Southern flight from Huntsville crashing in New Hope, Ga. We knew Lyman could possibly be on that flight, and we began to pray for everyone involved, and we also prayed that our friend was not on the flight. With great sadness, later that afternoon we received information through another friend who worked for Southern that Lyman was indeed the second officer on board and had lost his life due to the injuries he had sustained.

    After all these years, Jean and I both agree that Lyman’s funeral was the saddest we have ever attended–the sadness in the eyes of a young widow and her two precious little girls over the loss of their husband and dad is impossible to forget. We eventually lost contact with Cathy after she and the girls moved back to California, but we would love to hear from them and reconnect someday.

    • Tiffany J. Keele-Grana says:

      Hello John and Jean – Tiffany Keele here – Lyman’s oldest daughter. I just read this and I want to thank you for your kind words and all you did for my family back in 1977.

      I am sorry we lost touch. I want to let you know that my mom is doing well and lives in Austin TX with her husband Ken. My sister Monica also lives in Austin with her husband Dan and their two young sons. I live in LA with my husband and our two boys.

      My immediate family will be attending the Southern 242 memorial service/event in New Hope on March 25, 2017. Will you be there?

      • John & Jean Anchors says:

        Tiffany: I wanted to let you know that Jean and I are planning to attend the memorial service 3-25. It doesn’t seem possible it will be forty years since that that terrible day. We look forward to seeing you and meeting your family in March. J&J

  8. John & Jean Anchors says:

    Really great hearing back from you Tiffany. We remember you as a beautiful little girl who was the spitting image of her daddy. I’m sure you have grown into a beautiful young women. Let us hear from you soon. We also remember you spending the night with us a few times, and I even found a pic of you when we attended a get-together with my company at Stone Mountain Park.

  9. Tiffany Keele Grana says:

    Thanks so much John and Jean. I am so glad you reached out.
    I will tell my mother you want to connect. So nice of you.

  10. Lori Holland Kirby says:

    I was born and raised in Paulding County. We lived in a little town just Southeast of New Hope called Hiram. Although I was only 8 years old, I remember the day of the crash of flight 242. My dad worked for Eastern Airlines at the time and someone called him to come help, along with anyone else in the area who worked for the airlines. That would be unbelievable now, but back in 1977 in rural Paulding County, it was all hands on deck. We had a very small police force, only volunteer fire departments in each little town and only one small hospital. It was literally a place where everyone knew everyone else. Just look at how many ways this crash touched my life; my dad was called to help at the crash site, my mother rode to work every day with Chief Clayton’s daughter, Melanie, and I went to New Hope Baptist Church every Sunday (which is located just across the street and about 100 yards from Newman’s store).

    I remember being scared when my dad left the house, I knew a plane had crashed and I knew a lot if people had died, and now I knew that my daddy was going to the crash site. Of course, he came home just fine many hours later. He has never talked about it much, only that he was there and saw some terrible things.

    Ironically, I am now married to an instructor for Delta Airlines and live in East Point, GA….only 1.5 miles from Hartsfield Jackson Airport. I have never forgotten that horrible day, but after reading your account of the communities involved, I am very proud of my native Paulding County and how they came together to help others and deal with this terrible tragedy. Thank you for writing this, and not only telling the story of those on the plane, but also of those in the community.

    Lori Holland Kirby
    Paulding County Native

  11. peter kelly says:

    One of the saddest days of our lives. The Kellys–Frank, Jean, Josh, and Peter.

  12. Mike Davis says:

    I also grew up in Paulding County. I was almost 17-years-old at the time of the crash. I had began 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 sited 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 they were yesterday.

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

    –Mike Davis

  13. lisa gantt parris says:

    I remember that day very well. I was fourteen years old, my dad called home to tell us he would be late because he worked at the site. He never spoke about it–he said it was just too horrific to talk about as it looked like a war zone. In his later years he told us a few things, but only what happened, never what he did that night.

  14. Tom Kappel says:

    I do not mean to intrude on your discussion, but I now realize that I was connected to this tragedy–that accident saved my life and that of many others. In 1998 I was on AirTran Flight 426 leaving Atlanta. We encountered severe hail heading into a storm that nearly destroyed the plane. Like 242, there were a number of mistakes made that led to the incident. But we did land. Deep in the NTSB report of Airtran 426, there is reference to the fact that the turbofan blades on our DC-9 engines were modified from the original to help the engine withstand severe hail, due to a previous incident. That incident was Flight 242. Our plane was so severely battered that it made everyone, including the crew, cry when they saw the outside.

    For 16 years I have been haunted by that day, but grateful beyond expression for the things that did go right. And the only two things that went right were the heroics of a brave pilot and the resilience of that plane. Just yesterday I learned the history of Flight 242, and now I know who to thank. I am deeply saddened for all of you who suffered in 1977. And I will pray that you find peace. Flight 242 saved a lot of lives, including mine, and I am grateful.

    • Phyllis Reid says:

      That is comforting to know, Tom. I was 16 at the time of the crash and lost my father, but I am so glad that things were learned from the tragedy to help others. I found peace long ago. My Dad was wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade the 16 years I had with him for a lifetime with any other father.

  15. Mike Dixon says:

    Clifford–I just discovered your blog after listening to the story about the New Hope crash on public media. First, thanks for all you do to share the stories of the past. I’m in Elkton, MD. and fifty years ago we had a jet crash at the edge of town, so the experiences were similar. Anyway, I linked my blog about the GA incident to one of your photos. Thanks again.

  16. Barbara Beal says:

    My husband, Tommy Beal, was on the manifest list of the ill fated flight. Being a pilot himself, he checked the weather before the flight and decided to take the next flight out. It’s a good thing he called his mom to let her know about his change in plans, as calls started coming in inquiring about him.

  17. Trudy Schadler says:

    A very dear friend of ours was on that plane. His brother had gone to the Boston airport to pick him up. While waiting for his arrival, he learned that the plane had crashed. Our friend was one of the survivors and spent several months in the burn unit of the hospital in Atlanta. So thankful he survived.

  18. Steven Maner says:

    None of the accounts of accident I have read fully reflect how close the pilots came to pulling off the landing of plane. I was there and saw it first hand. Ten minutes before crash I was 30 ft in the air up the telephone pole in front of the welding shop in downtown New Hope. Fifteen minutes later pole was gone!!! You could see the tire marks on pavement where plane touched down. It was dead center on the road and lined up perfectly, till the left wingtip contacted the bank on left in front of the school. This pulled the plane left and towards the gas station. That sealed their fate. I fully believe if not for bank the plane’s outcome, and future of all the passengers, would have been totally different…

  19. Eric Sindorf says:

    One of these medical centers saved my grandfather’s life after this crash. He lost his right leg below the knee in the incident. Warren Sindorf and his multiple descendants including myself thank you for your efforts!

  20. Mike says:

    I just now leaned about this event by watching a TV show about air disasters. I’m from Georgia but I never knew this happened. I wonder why they didn’t dump fuel when they knew they were going down.

  21. Sara Cozad says:

    Found this after watching a YouTube video about the crash. My heart and prayers go out to all the survivors.

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