Southern Airways Flight 242

Infobox Airliner accident
name=Southern Airways Flight 242

Date=April 4, 1977
Type=Multiple engine failure
Site=New Hope, Paulding County, Georgia, United States
Fatalities=70 (including 8 on the ground)
Aircraft Type=DC-9-31
Operator=Southern Airways
Tail Number=N1335U
origin=Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, Muscle Shoals [cite web |url= |work=AOPA Online |title=Deadly Surprise: Thunderstorms require a wide berth |first=Bruce |last=Landsberg |date=August 1998]
stopover=Huntsville International Airport
destination=William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport|
Southern Airways Flight 242 was a DC-9-31 jet, registered N1335U, that executed a forced landing on a highway in New Hope, Paulding County, Georgia, United States after suffering hail damage and losing power on both engines in a severe thunderstorm on April 4, 1977. [cite news |work=The New York Times |title=Hail in Engines Is Blamed in Georgia Crash Killing 68 |date=1977-04-06 |first=B. Drummond |last=Ayres, Jr. |url= |page=20]

At the time of the accident, the Southern Airways aircraft was flying from Huntsville, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia. Sixty-two people on the aircraft (including the flight crew) and eight people on the ground died; twenty passengers survived, as well as the two flight attendants; one passenger who initially survived died around one month later.

Accident sequence

The flight crew, consisting of captain Bill McKenzie and co-pilot Lyman Keele, was advised of the presence of embedded thunderstorms and possible tornadoes along their general route prior to their departure from Huntsville, but was not subsequently updated of the fact that the cells formed up into a squall line. The flight crew had flown through that same area from Atlanta earlier in the day, and encountered only mild turbulence and light rain during those flights.

The weather system had apparently intensified in the meantime. The peak convective activity was later shown on ground radar to be near Rome, Georgia, to which the flight was cleared to proceed by Air Traffic Control. The crew attempted to pick out a path through the cells depicted on their onboard weather radar display, but were apparently misled by the radar's attenuation effect and proceeded toward what they perceived as a low intensity area, which in fact was the peak convective activity point, attenuated by rain.

As the flight descended from its cruise altitude of 17,000 feet to 14,000 feet near Rome VOR, it apparently entered a thunderstorm cell and encountered a massive amount of water and hail. The hail was intense enough to break the aircraft's windshield, and due to ingestion of hail, the bleed air valves of both engines became clogged with ice resulting in pressure surges in both engines. The pilots, having no training into how to handle pressure surges, did not back off on the throttles, as is required to relieve the pressure in the compressor, and in fact increased throttle in response to an ATC request to climb. Consequently, the pressure surges continued and compressor blades failed, first in the number 1 engine, followed soon after by the number 2 engine, resulting in the internal destruction of both engines. The crew attempted unsuccessfully to achieve a restart of the engines, gliding down unpowered while trying to find an emergency landing field within gliding range. Air Traffic Control suggested Dobbins Air Force Base, about 20 miles east, as a possible landing site, but it turned out to be beyond reach. Another option, Cartersville Airport, a General Aviation field about 15 miles north with a much shorter runway was considered, but it too was now out of reach. As the aircraft ran out of altitude and options, gliding with a broken windshield and no engine power, the crew made visual contact with the ground and spotted a straight section of a rural highway below. They executed an unpowered forced landing on that road, but during the rollout the aircraft collided with a gas station/grocery store and other structures. The flight crew and 60 passengers were killed during the forced landing due to impact forces and fire, but 19 of the passengers ultimately survived, as well as both flight attendants. Eight people on the ground died. One passenger initially survived the crash and died on June 5, 1977. A seriously injured person on the ground died around one month later. The NTSB defined the injuries for them as serious, as the agency defined a fatal injury as one that occurs within 7 days of the accident.

NTSB investigation and final report

The NTSB investigated the accident and concluded the following Probable Cause in its majority report, issued on January 26, 1978:PDFlink| [ NTSB Accident Report] |4.27 MiB ]

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the total and unique loss of thrust from both engines while the aircraft was penetrating an area of severe thunderstorms. The loss of thrust was caused by the ingestion of massive amounts of water and hail which in combination with thrust lever movement induced severe stalling in and major damage to the engine compressors.

The NTSB also included the following Contributing Factors:

Major contributing factors included the failure of the company's dispatching system to provide the flightcrew with up-to-date severe weather information pertaining to the aircraft's intended route of flight, the captain's reliance on airborne weather radar for penetration of thunderstorm areas, and limitations in the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system which precluded the timely dissemination of realtime hazardous weather information to the flightcrew.

Francis H. McAdams, one of the four NTSB members, dissented with the other members and filed the following Probable Cause in the same report:

the probable cause of this accident was the captain's decision to penetrate rather than avoid an area of severe weather, the failure to obtain all the available weather information despite having knowledge of the severity of the storm system, and the reliance upon airborne weather radar for penetration rather than avoidance of the storm system. The penetration resulted in a total loss of thrust from both engines due to the ingestion of massive amounts of water and hail which in combination with advanced throttle settings induced severe stalling in, and major damage to, the engine compressors, which prevented the crew from restarting the engines. Furthermore, if the company's dispatching system had provided the flightcrew with timely severe weather information pertaining to the aircraft's intended route of flight, it is possible that the severe weather would not have been penetrated.

McAdams also added the following Contributing Factor:

Contributing to the cause were the inadequacies of the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system which precluded the dissemination of real-time hazardous weather information to the flightcrew.

Flight attendants commendation

The flight attendants on board were Catherine Lemoine Cooper as senior flight attendant, and Sandy Purl Ward, second flight attendant.

The NTSB noted in its report that despite the fact that the flight crew did not communicate with the cabin crew during the emergency sequence, the flight attendants nevertheless on their own initiative briefed and prepared the passengers for an emergency landing as the plane glided down. Just prior to touchdown, with no prior notice or cue from the flight crew that the plane was about to crash land, the flight attendants "saw trees" in the windows, and immediately yelled to the passengers a final "grab your ankles!" command. The flight attendants also helped evacuate the passengers from the burning plane after the crash landing. The NTSB concluded:

The flight attendants acted commendably for initiating a comprehensive emergency briefing of the passengers for their protection in preparation for a crash landing. This contributed to the number of survivors.

Purl wrote the book "Am I Alive?" about the experience and is a motivational speaker. In her book, she tells the story of the crash and the history of critical incident stress management's entry into the aviation industry. [cite book |last=Purl |first=Sandy |coauthors=Gregg A. Lewis |title=Am I Alive?: A Surviving Flight Attendant's Struggle and Inspiring Triumph over Tragedy |origyear=1986 |origmonth=April |publisher=HarperCollins |language=English |isbn=978-0062506917 |pages=185pp] Both her story and her efforts have been paramount in helping the industry develop official programs of support and rehabilitation for airline personnel and their families who are involved in airline disasters.

Accident location

The NTSB identified the accident site in its report as "Highway 92 Spur, bisecting New Hope, GA". They also include the geographical coordinates of coord|33|57|45|N|84|47|13|W|region:US-GA_type:landmark|display=inline,title. In addition, the NTSB report includes a depiction of the accident site, hand drawn as a circled 'X' on an aviation Sectional chart. Due to subsequent development, the highway designations have changed as of 2006. The road section used for the forced landing, formerly called Highway 92 Spur, is now called Dallas-Acworth Highway (Highway 381).cite web |url= |title=History and maps of Highway 92/381 |work=Peach State Roads: The Highways of Georgia] The small Georgia community of New Hope, in Paulding County, where a memorial/reunion was held by survivors and family members 20 years after the accident in 1997,cite news |work=The New York Times |title=Memories and Healing 2 Decades After Crash |url= |first=Kevin |last=Sack |date=1997-04-14] cite news |work=Associated Press |title=Seventy-two people died when Southern Airways Flight 242 crashed 20 years ago in the small community of New Hope |url= |date=1997-04-13] still appears on maps as of 2006.cite web |work=MapQuest |url= |title=Map of New Hope area (zoom to enlarge)] . The site is 11 miles from Cartersville Airport and 15.5 miles from Dobbins AFB. Cornelius Moore Field, between Cedartown and Rockmart, was about 20.5 miles behind them at the time of the crash.

ee also

*Southern Airways Flight 932 - the only other fatal Southern Airways accident
*TACA Flight 110 - May 24, 1988 - 737 which lost power in a similar incident
*List of notable accidents and incidents on commercial aircraft
*Air Crash Investigations


External links

* [ ASN accident record]
* [ AOPA Air Safety Foundation narrative] (including cockpit voice recorder transcripts)
* [ Southern 242's Final Flight] (including list of passengers and other information)
* [ Pre-accident photo of accident aircraft N1335U on ASN]
* [ CVR (partial) of flight 242 from]
* [ TV Documentary - Discovery Channel "Southern Storm"]

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