Pan Am Flight 759
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|Date||July 9, 1982|
|Summary||Microburst-induced wind shear|
|Fatalities||153 (145 on the aircraft and 8 on the ground)|
|Injuries (non-fatal)||4 (on the ground)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 727-235|
|Aircraft name||Clipper Defiance|
|Flight origin||Miami International Airport|
|Stopover||New Orleans Int'l Airport|
|Destination||McCarran Int'l Airport|
Pan Am Flight 759 was a regularly scheduled domestic passenger flight from Miami to San Diego, with en route stops in New Orleans and Las Vegas, United States. On July 9, 1982, the Boeing 727 flying this route was forced down by a microburst shortly after takeoff, crashed into the New Orleans suburb of Kenner. All 145 on board and 8 people on the ground were killed. The crash had the highest number of aviation fatalities in 1982.
The aircraft involved, a 14-year-old Boeing 727-235, registration N4737, construction number 19457/518, was delivered to National Airlines on January 31, 1968. The aircraft was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-7B turbofan engines, and was renamed from 37 Susan/Erica to Clipper Defiance after National was merged with Pan Am.
The weather forecast issued at 0740 on July 9 by New Orleans National Meteorological Center contained thunderstorms, possible severe turbulence, icing, and wind shear. The weather chart at 1800 local time identified a high pressure system located 60 nm off the Louisiana coast. No fronts or low pressure areas were within 100 nm of the airport. The forecast between 1200 and 2200 indicated “scattered clouds, variable to broken clouds at 3,000 ft, thunderstorms, and moderate rain showers." According to the NWS (National Weather Service), there were no severe weather warnings for the time and area of the accident. :1.7
Flight 759 began its takeoff from Runway 10 at the New Orleans International Airport (now Louis Armstrong New Orleans International), in Kenner, Louisiana at 16:07:57 central daylight time, bound for Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time of Flight 759's takeoff, there were thunderstorms over the east of the airport and east-northeast of the departure end of runway 10. The winds were reported to be "gusty and swirling.":2.2.2 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. At 16:09:01, the aircraft crashed into the residential area of Kenner, about 4,610 feet (1405 m) from the end of the runway.
The aircraft was destroyed by the impact, explosion, and subsequent ground fire. A total of 153 people were killed (all 145 passengers and crew on board and 8 on the ground).:1.1 Another 4 people on the ground sustained injuries. In one of the destroyed houses, a baby was discovered in a crib covered with debris that protected her from the flames. The child's mother and 4-year-old sister were killed. In total, 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 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 stopped before its impact with trees. Contributing to the accident was the limited capability of then-current wind shear detection technology. The investigation noted the failure of the US Government to "put out proper weather information that day and to maintain wind shear detection devices at the airport." The New York Times reported that:
"According to witnesses, a wind shear alert was mentioned on New Orleans Airport radio frequencies on July 9, before Flight 759 took off. But the flight crew had been briefed with a recorded weather advisory that was two hours old, though airport routine is for hourly recordings of weather information. There were no procedures at the airport for advising flight crews that updated weather announcements were available."
As a result, millions of dollars were paid out as compensation to various families affected by the crash. Flight 759, along with Delta Air Lines Flight 191 which crashed due to similar circumstances three years later, led to the development of the Airborne wind shear detection and alert system and the Federal Aviation Administration mandate to install windshear detection systems at airports and on board aircraft in the U.S. by 1993.
Nationalities of the passengers and crew
A memorial to the accident is located at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Kenner, Louisiana.
At the time of accident, the aircraft was carrying 137 passengers and one non-revenue passenger in the cockpit jumpseat, along with a crew of seven. The Captain was Kenneth McCullers. He was described by others as an "above average" pilot, who was "comfortable" to fly with because of his excellent judgement and ability to exercise command. The First Officer was described by other captains as a conscientious pilot with excellent knowledge of aircraft systems and company flight procedures and techniques. All three flight crew, including the captain, the first officer and the second officer, were reported having no sleep or health problems, and had passed all proficiency checks without issues.:1.5
Royd Anderson wrote and produced a documentary on the crash in 2012.
- "NTSB Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-83/02" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. March 21, 1983. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
- "Accident description". Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
- Barsley, Robert E.; Carr, Ronald F.; Cottone, James A.; Cuminale, Joseph A. "Identification Via Dental Remains: Pan American Flight 759". Journal of Forensic Sciences. 30 (1). doi:10.1520/jfs10973j.
- Dennis Woltering (photojournalist) (July 5, 2012). "Pan Am crash's 'Miracle Baby' made best of second chance" (Television production). WWL-TV. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
- King, Wayne (11 July 1982). "Hunt Goes On For Bodies and Clues in Pan Am Crash that Killed 153". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 4, 2017.
- Sparacello, Mary; Colley Charpentier (July 9, 2007). "Crash anniversary draws little attention". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans: Advance Publications. Retrieved 2010-04-18.
- Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board; Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources, Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Board; National Research Council (1983). Report of the Committee on Low-Altitude Wind Shear and Its Hazard to Aviation: A Joint Study. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. ISBN 9780309034326. OCLC 11160194.
- "Pan Am and U.S. Accept Responsibility for Crash". The New York Times. UPI. 14 May 1983.
- Special to the New York Times (18 September 1982). "Airports Faulted on Wind Detection". The New York Times.
- "$10.1 Million Awarded In a Pan Am Air Crash". The New York Times. 2 July 1984. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Pan American Settles First Two Suits Arising From 1982 Plane Crash". The Wall Street Journal. January 19, 1984. ISSN 0099-9660.
- Wallace, Lane E. "The Best That We Can Do: Taming the Microburst Windshear". Airborne Trailblazer. NASA. Archived from the original on April 11, 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-18.
- Weber, M. E.; Stone, M. L. (March 1994). "Low Altitude Wind Shear Detection Using Airport Surveillance Radars". Proceedings of 1994 IEEE National Radar Conference: 52–57. doi:10.1109/NRC.1994.328097.
- "List of Victims of the Crash of Pan American World Airways Flight 759 in Kenner, La., as Released by the Airline". United Press International. July 12, 1982.
- New Orleans "Times-Picayune" Love of film started in Cuba for Pan Am documentary maker
- New Orleans "Times-Picayune" Pan Am jet crash in Kenner is remembered in new documentary
- New Orleans "Times-Picayune" Remembering Flight 759's victims: Editorial
- New Orleans "Times-Picayune" Pan Am Flight 759 crash remembered in memorial, documentary 30 years later
- "St. Charles Herald Guide" Former HHS teacher makes movie about Kenner tragedy
- The Times-Picayune in 175 years - 1982: Pan Am Flight 759 crashes in Kenner