Carl McAfee, the attorney who yesterday helped arrange a meeting in Tehran between an American hostage and his mother, is a country lawyer from Southwest Virginia's coalfields with an uncanny knack for embroiling himself in international hostage crises.

The 50-year-old lawyer from Norton, Va. (pop. 5,000), represented the parents of U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down over the Soviet union in 1960, and sought the release of 82 members of the USS Pueblo crows in 1968, in 1970 McAfee went to Moscow to try to get information on 32 American soldiers missing in Vietnam.

McAfee, a well-known trial attorney in Southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee who specializes in personal injury cases, became involved in the Iranian hostage crisis last December when the mother of the youngest hostage called him asking for help.

On Saturday, after weeks of negotiations and with visas issued in Paris, the Virginia lawyer arrived in Tehran with the mother who had called him, Barbara Timm of Oak Creek, Wis., and her husband, Kenneth.

After two days of confusion and delays by the militant students holding the 50 American hostages at the United States Embassy, Timm was permitted yesterday to meet privately with her son, 20-year-old Marine Sgt. Kenneth Hermening.

The Timms and lawyer McAfee made it to Iran "under the wire," the State Department said yesterday, because they got there before federal travel restrictions went into effect yesterday.

McAfee called his law partner and a friend in Norton Sunday night to say that he was confident that Mrs. Timm would be able to see her son and that he wouldn't face any legal problems for making the trip.

The lawyer, who was born the son of a coal miner in Wise County Va., has managed to live in his isolated Appalachian home while still keeping in touch with international hostage problems by knowing the right people.

McAfee has been in constant contact with Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho) since the congressmen made his unauthorized diplomatic tour of Iran last winter, according to Hugh Cline, McAfee's law partner. Cline said that Mrs. Timm called McAfee at Hansen's recommendation.

It was knowing the right people that pulled McAfee into international hostage negotiations back in 1960 when Powers' spy plane crashed in the Soviet Union.

McAfee then was practicing law in an office over a shoe store in Norton that was owned by Powers' father, Oliver Powers.

"Mr. Powers was just a shoe cobbler and he wanted somebody local to help," according to lawyer Cline. "County people go to somebody they know."

So McAfee, only 30 years old and an inexperienced lawyer who graduated from the University of Virginia's T. C. Williams School of Law in Richmond, took the case and flew to Moscow with the Powers family.

In 1968, McAfee again traveled to Moscow, along with his law partner Cline and Norton contractor Charles Daniels, to represent a man whose son was a member of the Pueblo crew, captured by North Korean patrol boats in the Sea of Japan.

McAfee met for four days in East Berlin with Korean officials several days prior to the release of the crew.

"McAfee is one of the best lawyers I've ever seen," says Daniels. "He has a sharp staccato voice. He's the best you ever heard on the phone -- every word clear. He can run the gantlet of emotions and will do anything necessary to get the job done."

In 1970 McAfee again went to Moscow, in behalf of 28 families seeking information about servicemen missing to Vietnam.

McAfee, who ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia Senate as a Republican in 1971, told friends on the phone Sunday night that all he hoped to attain in Tehran was a visit between Mrs. Timm and her son.

"But if anything better comes of it [such as possible negotiations for release of the hostages], McAfee is smart enough to take advantage," said one of the lawyer's friends in Norton.