I grew up about three miles from the runways of Hartsfield, so it’s rather an understatement for me to say that the airplanes flew low over my childhood home. We lived under a major landing pattern. The planes flew so low that the engine noise would drown out my favorite cartoons. The planes were so low
my mother would joke the pilots could get a glimpse of her through the window in her “gown-tail” washing the breakfast dishes at the sink.
Yes, the planes flew close – and they were loud – and from time to time I played the “what if” game.
What if a plane got into some trouble and crashed into our house? If could happen – it was a possibility, and after the events of Monday, April 4, 1977 it was even more of a real possibility.
During the spring of 1977, I had other things on my mind. I had recently transferred to a new school and suddenly found myself covered with several hours of homework each afternoon.
Another concern was the weather. It had been a busy storm season, and Monday, April 5, 1977 was no different.
You know the drill….wave after wave of winds, rain, lightning and hail. In fact, during the last week of March, 1977 Douglas County had had so much rain the folks here experienced severe flooding.
The afternoon of Monday, April 5, 1977 started off normally enough. I had arrived home around 4 p.m. lugging several thick textbooks and bulging notebooks, and had just settled down to my afternoon of assignments when a “special report” broke into the television show I was watching.
It was 4:20 p.m. – and while my afternoon was about to be taken up with something much more dramatic than homework, there were folks forty-five minutes from me experiencing life and death. For those who survived or witnessed the events and the aftermath in Paulding and Douglas Counties their lives would be forever altered.
One of my worst fears had come true – not for me, but for them.
Earlier that afternoon a Southern Airways flight – Number 242 – originating from Muscle Shoals, Alabama stopped in Huntsville to take on more passengers. They were prevented to take off on time, however. Bad weather was passing through. Flight 242 finally headed for Atlanta fifteen to twenty minutes late.
Bobby Bruce, a city of Dallas maintenance worker was busy on a hillside at Dallas Cemetery just after 4 p.m. He looked up and noticed a DC-9 flying way too low and even more alarmingly the plane was silent. There was no engine noise. Mr. Bruce got on his city radio and reported the plane and mentioned that it was heading towards the community of New Hope, a small farming area four miles northeast of Dallas, Georgia.
The pilots of the plane had already been in touch with the controllers at the Atlanta tower and reported they were experiencing windshield issues and one engine had lost power. The plane had experienced bad weather that once again had dumped rain and hail over West Georgia.
Several folks heard Mr. Bruce’s call on the City of Dallas radio concerning the plane. The folks at Martin’s Funeral Home dispatched an ambulance to head towards New Hope, the Dallas Police sent a car out to the area and Steve Wills, a deputy with the Paulding County Sheriff’s office also headed in the direction of New Hope – just in case.
By this time the second engine had gone, and the plane was floating with no power whatsoever. The pilots were talking to the tower in Atlanta. They knew the plane wouldn’t remain aloft for long. There was some discussion of gliding into Dobbins, but it was fifteen miles away – too far to glide. The nearest airport was in Cartersville – also too far away.
The pilots were left with one alternative – an attempt at landing on the highway – State Highway 92 to be exact.
An article from the April 5th issue of the Douglas County Sentinel recounts the events this way:
“Witnesses said the plane was coming straight in on the road when its wings began to clip trees and a utility pole. The plane reportedly touched down at least once, but the aircraft veered to the right, striking cars and gas pumps at Newman’s store. The plane then skidded out of control about one hundred more
yards before if left the road exploding among several trees between two houses.”
Deputy Steve Wills picks up the story from his vantage point from the book The Heritage of Paulding County:
“As we came into the community, the smoke cloud was already huge and there was an explosion. There were treetops and power lines down.”
He and the Dallas police officer hurriedly parked their cars and ran the rest of the way toward the scene.
Deputy Wills continued, “Just past the store the plane was in view. The plane had broken apart and scattered into pieces in the Poole’s yard.”
He described the scene as fire everywhere, so much smoke it choked, and the smell was unforgettable. Some rescuers described it as “the smell of death.
Bruce explains the first-responders worked together and worked quickly to get the injured to the hospital stating that when there were no more ambulances a school bus was used to transport victims.
Douglas County’s Civil Defense Unit received the call at 4:20 p.m. Jimmy Ball advised in a Sentinel article he reached the scene twenty minutes later along with Dick Lovvins and Michael Richardson. The men were among the first to arrive from Douglas County along with an ambulance dispatched from
Douglas General Hospital. Several members of the Douglas County Fire Department and law enforcement crossed the county line to help as needed.
Jimmy Bail told the Sentinel at the time, “It was a mess – it was one of the worst disasters I’ve ever been to…I’ve been in rescue work for seventeen years, and the crash was the worst.”
Dennis Chandler told the Sentinel he arrived about thirty minutes after the crash. He mentioned at that time the store was still burning, and he witnessed a truck had been backed up to the fuselage of the plane where workers were removing bodies. Chandler described getting sick and said it was the worst thing he had seen.
Working the radio that day for Douglas County Civil Defense was Bob Smith who says the men who went to the scene that day were forever changed. For some reason authorities at the crash scene were unable to hear the messages being sent to them from the Civil Defense offices in Atlanta, but they could communicate with the office in Douglasville. Bob Smith has told me the Douglas County office served as a middleman relaying messages back and forth.
By the time Ball and the others from Douglas County had arrived the first responders had already rounded up the injured and removed them from the scene. Ball, Lovvins and Richardson joined in with the others completing the grim task of removing the bodies.
One of those on the ground – Mrs. Bertie Corlis – had been standing in her yard when she was struck and killed by flying debris. An entire family of seven was killed when their car was struck and caught in the fire that engulfed Newman’s store.
One of the plane’s landing gears had ended up in the yard of the volunteer fire department’s chief, John Clayton.
Bodies were found up to 70 yards away from the actual crash site. The plane itself was in hundreds of pieces. The tail section of the plane was the part that was recognizable.
Initially the remains of the dead were wrapped in linen or plastic and lined up along the roadway, but at some point a morgue was set up in a nearby barn.
The crash of Flight 242 at New Hope was the first crash in Georgia involving a scheduled airline flight since 1941 and had the most fatalities regarding a crash within the state’s boundaries.
There is no possible way the true scope and magnitude of the tragedy can be told in a written piece like this, but it is a piece of history that should be documented. Personally, my heart goes out to each and every person who lost a family member or who was on the scene that day.
It truly is a sad day to remember.
Related Patch stories:
Visit the Flight 242 Traveling Display
Old Wounds Still Fresh as Plane Crash Anniversary Looms
Related Topics: Flight 242 at New Hope