A Southern Airways jetliner whose pilot had radioed that both of his engines were out crashed through the community of New Hope, Ga., yesterday afternoon.
Five people on the ground and 68 in the plane were killed and 22 on board survived, local police said.
The DC-9, Southern flight 242, was approaching Atlanta from Huntsville, Ala., in stormy weather.Southern Airways officials said that the flight had 81 passengers and a crew of four.
The pilot told air traffic controllers "he would try to make Dobbins Air Force Base, then said he would try to set it down on a road," a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Atlanta said. The crash site is about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta. Dobbins is about halfway between Atlanta and New Hope.
Tim Shipp, a police officer from nearby Dallas, Ga., said the plane apparently tried to make a landing on state highway Spur 92, which runs through New Hope. It first touched down in the playground at New Hope Elementary School, bounced over the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department headquarters, then crashed through Newman's Grocery store and two private residencees as it disintegrated.
The plane crashed at 4:16 p.m. local time. School had let out at 3 p.m.
Mrs. Marie Clayton told United Press International she was working in her front yard with her daughters when "we heard a big roaring sound. It sounded like a tornado and I screamed for everyone to run and I looked back down the highway and here come a jet plane."
The plane, she said, "hit Mr. Newman's store and killed his daughter and two grandchildren. It was breaking apart all down the road. It was throwing pieces up in the air and they were exploding."
In addition to the three people in Newman's store, a person in a car parked in front of the stare and a woman standing in a yard were killed.
Fires broke out immediately and rescue equipment from many neighboring communities rushed to the scene.
Survivors of the crash were taken to Paulding Memorial Hospital in Dallas and to Kannestone Hospital in Marietta. Helicopters from Dobbins Air Force Base and other locations were used to carry survivors.
The jet's wreckage was strewn over a quarter mile, the pilot of a traffic helicopter told Associated Press. "The debris is just that, debris. There's no wing sections, no fuselage. Only the tail is in one piece. A house is completely burned out. There are a number of trees that are charred."
Only the tail section remained after five men extinguished the flames.
Rescue efforts were hampered by a fierce spring rainstorm. Shipp said that two tornadoes had struck neighboring counties and that the entire section of Georgia was under a tornado warning.
At the time of the accident, Shipp said, it was overcast in New Hope with occasional sprinkles.
But the DC-9, a two-engine swept-wing jet with a capacity of about 100 passengers, had been flying through a ferocious rainstorm, possibly including hail, according to FAA officials.
The pilot radioed the controllers that his windshield was cracked and that the engines "flamed out," or died one after the other.
Aviation experts, cautioning that it was far too early to make a definitive analysis, suggested that heavy hail or sheet-like rain could have cut off the oxygen supply to the jet engines and shut them down.
A flame-out can also occur if there is an interruption in the fuel supply, if fuel is contaminated, or if the fuel controls develop a malfunction, the experts said. The engines on a DC-9 are mounted on the fuselage, immediately in front of the tail.
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigative team to the crash site last night.
At Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, a spokesman told United Press International that 14 patients had been received, of whom five were transferred in critical condition to the Grady Burn Center in Atlanta.
The Hubbard Building, a new warehouse-like structure in New Hope, was being used as a temporary morgue.
Southern Airways has routes throughout the Southeast. Flight 242 was en route to Atlanta from Huntsville and had orignated in Mussel Shoals, Ala.