It was a typical summer afternoon on the Gulf coast on July 9, 1982 when Pan Am flight 759 was preparing to depart New Orleans enroute to Las Vegas. Scattered clouds lay below thunderstorms and rain showers throughout the area. On the flight deck was Captain Kenneth McCullers, First Officer Donald Pierce, and Flight Engineer Leo Noone. Along with 136 passengers, there were four cabin attendants onboard the Boeing 727. Just after the doors were closed on the aircraft, a heavy rain began to fall. As 759 taxied out to runway 10, the current ATIS was reporting the wind calm. Before reaching the departure end of the runway, Pierce asked again for the current wind, which was now 040 at 8kts. Now at the departure end of the runway, the controller announced that the winds had become 060 at 15kts, with gusts to 25kts.

He also announced a low-level windshear alert with winds at the northeast end of the field from the north at 10kts and from the southeast at 3kts in the northwest end of the field. Pierce gave another call as 759 waited to take the runway, learning the wind was now 070 at 17, the controller saying "...appears the front is passing overhead right now...we're right in the middle of everything." Just after an incoming aircraft had touched down, 759 was cleared for takeoff. As 759 was starting it's roll, the controller advised an inbound aircraft that the previous aircraft had encountered a 10kt windshear on final.

Fully loaded, flight 759 finally lifted off nearly 7,000ft down the runway. After climbing to about 100ft, the aircraft then began to sink. Still in a nose-up attitude of about 10 degrees, the aircraft disappeared behind trees and exploded into a huge fireball. The aircraft had impacted in a residential area, destroying houses and cars for nearly three city blocks. All 144 aboard the aircraft and 8 on the ground were killed.

......The damage to the aircraft was so extensive that little could be revealed about the aircraft's condition at the time of the accident. However, investigators were able to determine that the flaps and slats were extended properly. Also, 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. Recovery of the FDR showed that everything was functioning normally throughout the short flight. The CVR was badly distorted, but with noise filtering, some of the recording was decipherable. After learning of the low-level windshear alert, the McCullers told Pierce to "Let your airspeed build up on takeoff" and suggested they turn off the air conditioning packs for takeoff, allowing them to get a higher EPR from the engines. McCullers also suggested that they turn slightly to the left on takeoff to avoid the worst of the weather.

The aircraft began it's takeoff roll with Pierce flying, McCullers calling out the airspeed. Twelve seconds after rotation, McCullers said "Come on're sinking Don...come on back!" Another twelve seconds later, the GPWS sounded and the aircraft impacted the ground at 149kts. More than 100 people witnessed 759's short flight and provided valuable insight as to the cause. Only four people saw lightning at the time and said it was not in the vicinity of the crash. Only one person reported hearing thunder. Reports varied about the intensity of the rain, but all seemed to agree that it was at least moderate. Reports of the wind direction and velocity also varied, but many described it as gusty and variable. The aircraft that departed prior to 759 on runway 10 reported a storm cell directly over the airport.

Another aircraft which departed runway 19 prior to 759 also reported several storm cells all around the airport, the largest lying to the east-northeast which had a gradient which "was very steep". The Captain of the aircraft reported that they encountered heavy rain and windshear during the takeoff roll. The aircraft drifted towards the runway edge and the Captain elected to rotate the aircraft early to avoid going off the runway. However, the next aircraft to depart 19 reported neither turbulence nor windshear. A business jet waiting for takeoff at runway 19 just prior to the accident reported seeing two cells of severe intensity just east of the airport, each of which were some 4nm in diameter. The crew reported that these cells had been the reason why they had not elected to depart runway 10. About an hour before the accident, the Centre Weather meteorologist called the tower to advise them of intense thunderstorms with lightning, severe turbulence, and wind gusts southwest of the airport.

He advised the tower that they were moving northeast and to "keep an eye on them." This warning however was only to alert the controllers of possible delays on departure and arrival and the tower was not required to pass this information on to flight crews. Collection of radar images at the time of the accident showed level 3 or greater storm cells to the east of and over the departure end of runway 10. Rainfall gauges near the departure end indicated a rate of over two inches/hour but could have reached upwards of nearly six inches/hour.

Two seconds after the accident, there was another windshear alert. Based on the sensor data, it was estimated that 759 initially encountered a 14kt headwind which changed to a 5kt tailwind near the departure end. This 19kt difference occurred in less than 1nm. Witnesses on the ground reported wind strength of even greater magnitude than was recorded by the sensors, indicating the shear could have been as great as 40kts. Based on the meteorological data, investigators concluded that 759 encountered a microburst, penetrating the centre of it just after rotation where it then encountered a decreasing shear of 48kts as it flew into the backside, encountering downdrafts of around 600feet/minute. Investigators also concluded that, given the limited visual cues available due to the heavy rain, the actions of McCullers and Pierce were as prompt as could be expected. Evidence at the crash site indicated that they had actually stopped the descent and entered a slight climb just prior to hitting trees.