Aviation History: Pan Am Flight 759

9th July 1982 a Boeing 727, Pan Am flight 759 crashed shortly after takeoff.

Boeing 727-235 (N4737) crashed shortly after takeoff from New Orleans International airport. The weather forecast issued at by New Orleans National Meteorological Center contained thunderstorms, possible severe turbulence, icing, and wind shear.

The flight originated in Miami International and had a stopover in New Orleans (Now Louis Armstrong New Orleans International) then bound For Las Vegas McCarran International.

On the flight deck was Captain Kenneth McCullers, First Officer Donald Pierce, and Flight Engineer Leo Noone. Along with 136 passengers & 4 crew.

Seconds before Disaster

Flight 759 began it’s takeoff from runway 10 at New Orleans at 16:07 heading to Las Vegas. At the time of departure thunderstorms where reported at the east and north east end of runway 10. Flight 759 lifted off with Pierce flying, McCullers calling out the airspeed. Twelve seconds after rotation, McCullers said “Come on back…you’re sinking Don…come on back!” Another twelve seconds later, the GPWS sounded After climbing to about 100ft, the aircraft then began to descend. Still in a nose-up attitude of about 10 degrees, the aircraft clipped the tree tops before it crashed.

The Aftermath

Flight 759 crashed into a residential area of Kenner, about 1400m from the end of the runway. The aircraft was completely destroyed by the impact and subsequent explosion and fire. The crash called 153 people in total all 145 passengers and crew on board and a further 8 on the ground.

The crash destroyed six houses and damaged a further five.

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Ariel Photography of the Aftermath of the Crash.
Photography Courtesy of Alchetron

Investigation & Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported the damage to the aircraft was so extensive that little of the aircraft’s condition could be told. However, investigators were able to determine that the flaps and slats were extended properly. Furthermore the engine gauges revealed that the engines had all been set to a high EPR at the time of the crash. No evidence of engine malfunction could be found.

Further data came from the Flight Data Recorder (Blackbox) which showed the aircraft was performing normally.  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.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was the aircraft’s encounter with microburst-induced wind shear during takeoff. Which Consequently caused a downdraft 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.

As a result million of dollars of compensation was given to families affected by the crash.

Flight 759 and three years late Delta Flight 191 which crashed with similar circumstances, which led to development of Airborne wind shear detection alert systems. Furthermore the FAA made a mandate to install windshear detection equipment at airports and on all all aircraft in the U.S in 1993.

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Jake Smith
Jake Smith
Director of Special Projects - Jake is an experienced aviation journalist and strategic leader, regularly contributing to the commercial aviation section of Travel Radar alongside leading strategy and innovation including livestreaming and our store.


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