153 Dead in Pan Am Flight 759 Crash
Pan Am Flight 759, operated by a Boeing 727-235, N4737 Clipper Defiance, was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from Miami to Las Vegas, with an en route stop at New Orleans.
On July 9, 1982 at 4:07:57 PM central daylight time, Flight 759, with seven crew members, one non-revenue passenger in the cockpit jumpseat, and 137 passengers (a total of 145 people on board), began its takeoff from runway 10 at the New Orleans International Airport (now Louis Armstrong International), in Kenner, Louisiana.
At the time of Flight 759's takeoff, there were thunderstorms over the east end of the airport. The winds were gusty and swirling. Flight 759 lifted off the runway, climbed to an altitude of between 95 and 150 feet (29 and 46 m), and then began to descend. About 2,376 feet (724 m) from the end of runway, the aircraft struck a line of trees at an altitude of about 50 feet (15 m). The aircraft continued descending for another 2,234 feet (681 m), hitting trees and houses before crashing in a residential area about 4,610 feet (1405 m) from the end of the runway.
The aircraft was destroyed during the impact, explosion, and subsequent ground fire. A total of 153 people were killed (145 passengers and crew on board and 8 on the ground). There was one survivor, a baby discovered in a crib covered with debris that protected her from the flames. Six houses were destroyed; five houses were damaged substantially.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was the aircraft's encounter with a microburst-induced wind shear during the liftoff, which imposed a downdraft and a decreasing headwind, the effects of which the pilot would have had difficulty recognizing and reacting to in time for the aircraft's descent to be arrested before its impact with trees. Contributing to the accident was the limited capability of then-current wind shear detection technology;this, along with the similar crash of Delta Air Lines Flight 191 three years later lead to the development of the airborne wind shear detection and alert system and the mandate by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have on-board windshear detection systems installed by 1993.
A memorial to the crash victims is located at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Kenner, Louisiana.
KENNER, La. -- Carmella Gudan was pregnant and standing under her mother's carport on the afternoon of July 9, 1982. It was a rainy, gusty day in Kenner's Morningside subdivision.
Nearby, at the New Orleans International Airport, Capt. Kenny McCuller requested clearance for takeoff at about 4 p.m.
He was piloting PanAm Flight 759, bound for Las Vegas.
But the Boeing 727 went down 29 seconds after takeoff -- after reaching an altitude of only 95 to 150 feet.
"The general consensus was is that it crashed because of wind shear -- it's a down draft that pushed the flight down," former Kenner police chief Nick Congemi said.
Congemi was a lieutenant and on-scene commander in 1982. He also worked a second job as a PanAm ticket agent.
Flight 759 officially crashed at 4:09 p.m., killing 146 people onboard and eight people on the ground.
Congemi described the aftermath of the crash as a living hell.
"Flames all over -- people were yelling and screaming. Everything was out of control," he said.
Former Kenner fire chief D.J. Mumphrey was in charge of putting out the flames immediately after the crash.