Controller at the display
Two months after the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted a five day public hearing at the Sheraton-Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta, GA. The witnesses included crash survivors, internal investigators, engine specialists, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, and a host of other experts directly involved with the crash investigation. Their testimony highlighted the series of fatal mistakes that led to the accident on April 4, 1977, claiming the lives of 63 people on board and nine others on the ground.
One of the prime miscues occurred just minutes into the flight from Huntsville, AL to Atlanta, right after the plane Continue reading
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 city radio in his truck to the dispatcher at the nearby Dallas Police Department – it became the first warning signal that a fiery tsunami was about to overwhelm 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. Continue reading
Braly Sports Complex in Dallas, GA
The exact spot where Southern 242’s wreckage is buried remains a mystery – but its location is in a very public place. After I became fully immersed in this oral history project, I found out that the wreckage has in fact been an unmarked grave site for nearly four decades. Every year, thousands of people unknowingly visit this forgotten tomb during events at the popular Samuel U. Braly Sports Complex in Dallas, GA. How is this even possible? The story begins right after the plane lost both engines in a hailstorm on April 4, 1977. Continue reading
Southern Airways fleet of 404’s in Atlanta, GA (Photo ca. 1972)
The National Transportation Safety Board is an American icon. Everyone recognizes their intrepid investigators, clad in navy blue shirts emblazoned with the yellow “NTSB” logo, swarming all over the horrific wreckage of airplanes, ships, and trains. Established in 1967, the Board is mandated by the U. S. Government to conduct independent investigations into every type of accident on land, air, and sea. Their final recommendations will often result in significant changes to the existing transportation safety regulations. Continue reading
Catherine Cooper in 1997
The tragic crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 is a cruel story of destruction, mayhem, and death. The captain died from his injuries, and the first officer expired while he was being medivaced to Kennestone Hospital. Twenty passengers died from fatal injuries due to severe burns and smoke inhalation, and 31 others were killed from crushing trauma to both the head and the upper body. Nine more passengers succumbed to a combination of trauma, burns, and smoke inhalation. The last victim lingered for over two months before he passed.
But there were also 22 lucky survivors, including both of the flight attendants – Catherine Lemoine Cooper and Sandy Purl. The survivors sustained a variety of injuries: most were burned about the head, face, hands, and lower Continue reading
Southern Airways DC-9
The final moments aboard Southern Airways Flight 242 were chaotic yet controlled: the first officer was searching in vain for a suitable runway; the pilot was furiously trying to restart the disabled engines; and the two flight attendants were keeping the unnerved passengers calm and focused during the hurried preparations for a potential forced landing.
First Officer Lyman Keele, Jr., a former Navy fighter pilot with more than 100 combat missions under his belt, immediately mastered the art of piloting a completely disabled McDonnell Douglas DC-9 after they lost both engines in a hellacious hailstorm minutes after takeoff. The glide ratio for a DC-9 is estimated to be about 15:1 depending on the conditions, so when the plane lost thrust at 17,000 feet, he had to quickly find a landing site. But after piloting the powerless aircraft for seven long minutes in a free-falling glide, he ran out of time. Keele was forced to make a “dead-stick” landing Continue reading