Pan Am Flight 759

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Pan Am Flight 759
Pan Am Boeing 727-210ADV N4737.jpg
N4737, the aircraft involved in the accident.
DateJuly 9, 1982
SummaryMicroburst-induced wind shear
SiteNew Orleans International Airport, Kenner, Louisiana
United States
29°59′15″N 90°14′08″W / 29.98750°N 90.23556°W / 29.98750; -90.23556Coordinates: 29°59′15″N 90°14′08″W / 29.98750°N 90.23556°W / 29.98750; -90.23556
Total fatalities153
Total injuries4
Aircraft typeBoeing 727-235
Aircraft nameClipper Defiance
OperatorPan Am
Flight originMiami International Airport
1st stopoverNew Orleans Int'l Airport
Last stopoverMcCarran Int'l Airport
DestinationSan Diego Int’l Airport
Ground casualties
Ground fatalities8
Ground injuries4

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. On July 9, 1982, the Boeing 727 flying this route crashed in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner after being forced down by a microburst shortly after takeoff. All 145 on board and 8 people on the ground were killed.[1] The crash had the highest number of aviation fatalities in 1982.[2][3]

Aircraft and crew[edit]

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,[2] and was renamed from 37 Susan/Erica to Clipper Defiance after National was merged with Pan Am.

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 45-year-old Kenneth L. McCullers, who had 11,727 flying hours, including 10,595 hours on the Boeing 727. McCullers 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.[1]:78 The First Officer was 32-year-old Donald G. Pierce, who had 6,127 flying hours, including 3,914 hours on the Boeing 727.[1]:78 Pierce was described by other captains as a conscientious pilot with excellent knowledge of aircraft systems and company flight procedures and techniques. The flight engineer was 60-year-old Leo B. Noone, who had 19,904 flying hours, including 10,508 hours on the Boeing 727.[1]:78–79 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]:4–5


The weather forecast issued at 0740 on July 9 by the 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 nautical miles (69 mi; 110 km) off the Louisiana coast. No fronts or low pressure areas were within 100 nautical miles (120 mi; 190 km) of the airport. The forecast between 1200 and 2200 indicated "scattered clouds, variable to broken clouds at 3,000 feet (910 m), 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]: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."[1]:2.2.2 First officer Pierce was the pilot flying and captain McCullers was the pilot monitoring, as recorded on the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder (CVR):[1]:3

Pan Am 759 CVR transcript (takeoff and crash only; the full transcript can be found in appendix D of the report)
# = Nonpertinent word; * = Unintelligible word; () = Questionable text; (( )) = Commentary; --- = pause; Shading = Radio communication
Time Source Content
16:07:56 Flight engineer Takeoff (checks all done)
16:07:59 First officer Takeoff thrust
16:08:04 First officer (Need the) wipers
16:08:06 ((Sound of windshield wipers begins and continues to end of tape))
16:08:16 ((Thump sound similar to runway bump))
16:08:16 Voice unidentified (Eighty knots)
16:08:27 ((Click)) ((Windshield wiper speed Increases))
16:08:33 Captain VR
16:08:34 ((Clunk sound attributed to nose strut topping))
16:08:41 Captain Positive climb
16:08:42 First officer Gear up
16:08:43 Captain (V2)
16:08:45 Captain (Come on back you're sinking Don - come on back)
16:08:48 ((Thump sound attributed to nose gear striking up locks))
16:08:45 Tower Clipper seven fifty nine contact departure one two zero point six so long.
16:08:57 Ground Proximity Warning System Whoop whoop pull up whoop
16:09:00 ((Sound identified as first impact))
16:09:02 Voice unidentified #
16:09:03 ((Click))
16:09:04 ((Sound of impact))
16:09:05 ((Sound of final impact))
16:09:05 ((Sound attributed to end of tape))

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 (1,410 m) from the end of the runway.

The aircraft was destroyed by the impact, explosion, and subsequent ground fire.[4] A total of 153 people were killed (all 145 passengers and crew on board and 8 on the ground).[1]:1.1 Another 4 people on the ground sustained injuries. In one of the destroyed houses, a 16-month-old baby girl was discovered in a crib covered with debris that protected her from the flames, sustaining only minor burns.[5] The child's mother and 4-year-old sister were killed. The child's father was at work when the accident occurred.[6] In total, six houses were destroyed; five houses were damaged substantially.[7]


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 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.[8] Contributing to the accident was the limited capability of then current wind shear detection technology.[1] 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."[9] 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.[10]

As a result, millions of dollars were paid out as compensation to various families affected by the crash.[11][12] 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.[13][14]


Nationalities of passenger, crew and ground fatalities[edit]

Nationality Passengers Crew Ground Total
United States 80 7 8 95
Australia 2 - - 2
Brazil 7 - - 7
Costa Rica 4 - - 4
France 4 - - 4
Hong Kong 4 - - 4
Jamaica 1 - - 1
Mexico 3 - - 3
Panama 1 - - 1
Puerto Rico 3 - - 3
Switzerland 4 - - 4
Uruguay 11 - - 11
Venezuela 1 - - 1
West Germany 5 - - 5
Yugoslavia 2 - - 2
Undetermined 6 - -    6[a]
Total 138 7 8       153[15][b]

A memorial to the accident is located at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Kenner, Louisiana.


Royd Anderson wrote and produced a documentary on the crash in 2012.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In the list of victims provided by the airline to United Press International, six of the passenger's nationalities were omitted.[15] One of these individuals was listed by the NTSB in their report on the accident as a non-revenued passenger occupying the cockpit's jumpseat.[1]:1
  2. ^ The NTSB report stated that "the coroner of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, issued a 'Certificate of Fatal Death' for a 7 ​12 month fetus which was not included in the final total."[1]:4


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Aircraft Accident Report Pan American World Airways Inc., Clipper 759, Boeing 727-235, N4737, New Orleans International Airport Kenner, Louisiana, July 9, 1982" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. March 21, 1983. NTSB/AAR-83/02. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Ranter, Harro. "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  3. ^ Ranter, Harro. "1982". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  4. ^ Barsley, Robert E.; Carr, Ronald F.; Cottone, James A.; Cuminale, Joseph A. (1985). "Identification Via Dental Remains: Pan American Flight 759". Journal of Forensic Sciences. 30 (1): 10973J. doi:10.1520/jfs10973j. PMID 3981104.
  5. ^ Woltering, Dennis (July 5, 2012). "Pan Am crash's 'Miracle Baby' made best of second chance" (Television production). WWL-TV. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
  6. ^ King, Wayne (July 11, 1982). "Hunt Goes On For Bodies and Clues in Pan Am Crash that Killed 153". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on October 4, 2017.
  7. ^ Sparacello, Mary; Charpentier, Colley (July 9, 2007). "Crash anniversary draws little attention". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans: Advance Publications. Archived from the original on July 12, 2007. Retrieved April 18, 2010. The Las Vegas-bound 727 crashed in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm, less than a minute after it took off, killing all on board, including eight on the ground. The plane tore through the Morningside Park neighborhood in south Kenner, destroying 15 homes.
  8. ^ Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (1983). Report of the Committee on Low-Altitude Wind Shear and Its Hazard to Aviation: A Joint Study (Report). Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources, Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Board; National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. doi:10.17226/558. ISBN 9780309034326. OCLC 11160194.
  9. ^ "Pan Am and U.S. Accept Responsibility for Crash". The New York Times. UPI. May 14, 1983.
  10. ^ "Airports Faulted on Wind Detection". The New York Times. Special to the New York Times. September 18, 1982. ISSN 0362-4331.
  11. ^ "$10.1 Million Awarded In a Pan Am Air Crash". The New York Times. July 2, 1984. ISSN 0362-4331.
  12. ^ "Pan American Settles First Two Suits Arising From 1982 Plane Crash". The Wall Street Journal. January 19, 1984. ISSN 0099-9660.
  13. ^ 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 April 18, 2010.
  14. ^ 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. ISBN 0-7803-1438-7. S2CID 11619995.
  15. ^ a b "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.
  16. ^ "Former HHS teacher makes movie about Kenner tragedy". St. Charles Herald Guide. June 29, 2012.

External links[edit]

External image
Pre-crash photos of #N4737 at