Southern Airways flight 242 was operating from Huntsville to Atlanta on the afternoon of April 4, 1977. On the flight deck of the DC-9 that day was Captain Bill McKenzie and First Officer Lyman Keele. Two flight attendants and 81 passengers were also aboard for the short flight. The weather that afternoon was far from pleasant, the area forecast predicting scattered thunderstorms, some severe with icing, turbulence, and hail. There were two Tornado Watches in effect as well as a SIGMET predicting severe thunderstorms reaching up to 58,000ft extreme turbulence, wind gusts in excess of 70kts, and large hail.

The crew had flown the same route outbound earlier and had experienced heavy rain and hail, not pleasant, but by all means manageable. The forecast for their arrival in Atlanta called for overcast layers down to 2700ft and winds gusting to 40kts. At 3:54pm, with rain falling, 242 departed Huntsville. Four minutes later, they were handed off to Atlanta Centre. Atlanta Centre was at the time talking to TWA and Eastern flight crews who were passing through the SIGMET area.

The Eastern crew reported that the ride "...wasn't too comfortable, but we didn't get into anything we would consider the least bit hazardous." A few minutes later, 242 was instructed to descend and maintain 14,000ft. The crew acknowledged, but four further transmissions went unanswered, finally answering "standby" to a fifth call. Atlanta then instructed 242 to maintain 15,000ft to which the crew replied "OK..we just got our windshield busted and...we'll try to get it back up to 15...we're 14." Crash Site of 242.

This was followed shortly by "Our left engine just cut out." Thirty seconds later, the crew reported "The other engine's going too!" 242 asked for an immediate vector to a clear area and Atlanta instructed the crew to maintain it's present heading and contact Atlanta Approach. Atlanta continued to try to contact 242, but in the next three minutes, all of it's calls went unanswered. Then 242 came up on Approach frequency reporting that it had lost both it's engines and needed a vector from it's present position at 7,000ft. Approach instructed 242 to turn right to a heading of 100 for a straight-in approach to runway 11 at Dobbins Air Force Base. At this point, 242 was 20 miles west of Dobbins.

After several minutes of continued discussion with Atlanta Approach, after descending through 4,600ft, 242 asked if there was a closer airport than Dobbins. Approach responded that Catersville airport was currently 10 miles north of 242's position and 242 asked to be vectored towards it. 242 was instructed to turn left to 360 and asked for information on the airport. Just after Approach finished reporting the information on Catersville, 242 replied with "We're putting it on the highway...we're down now to nothing!" 242 was now descending over Georgia's State Highway 92, a narrow two lane highway flanked on both sides by tall pine trees. The DC-9 clipped a tree with it's port wing and then struck an embankment, breaking up and bursting into flames and ploughing into a service station before coming to a stop. Of the 81 passengers on board, 60 were killed along with the pilots and eight people on the ground.

......Recovery of the wreckage showed extensive hail impact on the tail surfaces and engine nacelles. The fan blades of both engines showed denting due to hail as well. The low-pressure compressors were severely damaged, with bent and broken blades. In addition, the turbines had overheated. Wreckage of 242

One of the survivors reported there was severe turbulence and heavy rain followed by a lightning strike on the port wing and hail. He also reported hearing popping and surging before the engines failures. Water ingestion tests of the engines showed that, at flight idle, ingestion rates of over 18% caused the engine rpm to decrease sufficiently to cause generator cutout. This was evident in two power losses recorded on the FDR and CVR. In addition, test showed that, if the throttle was advanced to a high power setting, the resulting surge could cause bending and breaking of the low-pressure compressor blades.

This was evidenced in the engine by damage of the blades and subsequent ingestion of the fragments into the high-pressure compressor, causing engine failure. The turbine overheat damage was produced by high-power settings after compressor damage. It was therefore determined that heavy rain ingestion, not hail ingestion, was responsible for the engine failure. Review of the radar images of the accident area and the FDR showed that 242 actually flew right through the most severe part of the thunderstorm. 242 was equipped with weather radar, but the CVR picked up discussion of a "hole" just prior to the cell penetration. It is thought that what the crew saw was a "contour hole", caused by the intensity of the rainfall being so severe that the weather radar could not accurately display it.

This phenomenon apparently misled the crew into thinking they could penetrate the storm front through a hole. The National Weather Service had detailed information about the storm area which was available prior to 242's departure from Hunstville, but Southern's dispatch office was unaware of the the storm data and did not pass anything on to 242.