Cherry Waddell says her group’s 11-year effort to memorialize Georgia’s worst aviation disaster is not about remembering a tragedy.
Its work is about remembering those who died and helping the surviving families cope with it, she said.
“We don’t want to remember a horrible event,” she said. “We want to remember the people.”
Waddell was among the organizers in 2008 of the New Hope Memorial Flight 242 Inc. group. The nonprofit is dedicated to building a permanent memorial to the April 4, 1977, crash that killed 72 including nine on the ground in Paulding County’s New Hope community.
She is among those still active in the cause to build a stainless steel structure near the site of the crash that remains Georgia’s worst aviation disaster.
The effort recently received a major boost after an early March fundraising event garnered about $130,000.
Art Ragsdale, owner of Dallas-based Ragsdale Heating, Air & Plumbing, is on the nonprofit’s board and helped organize the fund-raiser.
He said the event was the official end to 12 years of appeals for funding the memorial. Combined with some earlier fund-raisers, New Hope Memorial Flight 242 has about $180,000, Ragsdale said.
“Now, we’re concentrating on construction,” he said.
New Hope Memorial Flight 242 Inc. is planning a permanent memorial near the crash site on what is now Dallas Acworth Highway near Old Cartersville Road, its Facebook page stated.
Its mission is to build a “permanent memorial” that “will serve to ensure this tragedy is never forgotten, educate those who do not know the events of this sad day, and forever honor the victims and those who came to help.”
Ragsdale said Waddell, who lost an aunt, and Jabo Carter, who lost his wife and son in the tragedy, have been among those who have been instrumental in keeping the effort going for more than a decade.
Waddell said the nonprofit spent about $5,000 in 2011 to build its first marker on the edge of New Hope cemetery. It is the shape and size of similar Georgia historic markers commemorating Civil War battles or other parts of the state’s long history.
However, Waddell and others have said they wanted something more striking, and architect Jim Croft designed one in 2015.
Ragsdale said he joined the effort in 2017 after hearing about it from Waddell at a Rotary Club meeting.
“Once I learned what Cherry was doing, I said we need this memorial,” Ragsdale said.
The lifelong Paulding resident had an indirect link to the event. He was a young contractor working on a new house that day a few hundred yards from New Hope First Baptist Church and decided to end work early because of an impending storm.
The thunderstorm produced rain and hail that caused Southern Airways Flight 242’s engines to stop. It quickly lost altitude and the pilots’ desperate attempt to land on what was then Hwy. 92 Spur resulted in the crash.
Ragsdale recalled during the next 30 minutes going home, unloading his truck, showering, watching TV and being skeptical after seeing a newscaster break in on the program.
“I said, ‘There’s no plane crash in New Hope,’ he recalled.
“The weather was really bad. A few minutes later, I opened up the door to look at the weather and all I could hear was sirens in every direction.”
He said he and his family quickly traveled by car to the area and got within about 1,000 feet of the wreck.
“What really caught me was, on the left hand side of the road, there were people running back toward us on the shoulder of the road, and they were just falling down on their knees crying,” he said. “They were not people who had been in the accident but they had been down there and saw it.”
Ragsdale said his father helped move some of the victims to makeshift morgues. His mother, a registered nurse, worked for two days straight to care for the survivors at Paulding hospital, he said.
He said those still wanting to make donations can send checks to Ragsdale Heating and Air at 418 Butler Industrial Dr, Dallas, GA 30132. Checks should be made to the order of New Hope Memorial Flight 242 Inc.