First responders talk lessons learned, 35 years after Kenner plane crash

First responders talk lessons learned, 35 years after Kenner plane crash

KENNER, LA (WVUE) - It was one of the worst tragedies to befall the New Orleans area, in the past century, and it happened, 35 years ago Sunday.

That's when a Pan Am airliner crashed into a Kenner neighborhood, in a heavy summer downpour, killing more than 150 and for some, the memories are still fresh.

In the quiet blocks off Williams Boulevard, that align with the east west runway at Armstrong International, jet noise often fills the air.

But on July 9th, 1982, what Rosalinda Vasquez heard in the air above Taylor Street was different.

"We heard  a noise like a train coming," said Vasquez.

Pan Am flight 759, in from Miami, and heading to Las Vegas, was struggling through what was later called a deadly blast of windshear in a severe thunderstorm.

"And then...we heard a boom," said Vasquez.

The three-engine 727, came to rest about a mile from the end of the runway, killing all 145 on board, and 8 on the ground.
"I was arriving on scene, and it was a driving, stinging rain," said former Kenner Fire Chief Mike Zito, who was a 22-year-old firefighter, when he was called to the fiery scene, along Taylor and Hudson Streets.

"First priority was to put the fire out, there was jet fuel everywhere, live power lines, all had to be tended to," said Zito.

Kenner councilman Michael Sigur was a Kenner police officer.

"When we saw the destruction, it became evident it was a larger plane, and then all the gory sights we knew there were no survivors, and it was just a recovery operation," said Sigur.

At the time, it was one of the deadliest plane crashes in history.

"It was devastating to those on the scene, and their family members," said former Kenner police officer, and current Causeway Police Chief Nick Congemi.

At a memorial service at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, many paused to pray and remember.

"We must recognize all those who remember, and mourn for their loved ones," said Rev. Richard Miles.

On Taylor Street, life goes on, but residents still remember.

"I was concerned a little bit," said Joseph Dufrene.

But the 1982 crash led to improvements in windshear protection at airports across the country, giving residents a measure of security.

"They get so low it scares us sometimes but like you said, with the new  technology we feel better," said Christine Dufrene.

And residents say they give little thought about moving away.

"No, my parents have lived here so long, it's natural to hear a plane go over,' said Vasquez.

The ill fated plane, never got above 150 feet in the air that day. The National Transportation Safety Board found that the probable cause of the accident was the aircraft's encounter with micro burst-induced wind shear during takeoff.

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