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July 9, 1982

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of the crash of Pan Am 759, which fell victim to a wind shear during takeoff from New Orleans International, plowing into a nearby Kenner neighborhood, killing eight people on the ground and all 146 aboard.

I know this now because the top story in the Sunday Times-Picayune was a remembrance of the crash, with a focus on the changes that it effected both in the aviation industry and in the town. The aviation industry learned from this tragedy, investing heavily in research toward the development of advanced technologies for the detection of wind-shears and microbursts. Kenner has had a more difficult, more emotional recovery; many people who live there still can’t talk about that day.

I was in high school in 1982, only 70 miles up the road in Baton Rouge, but the distance — both that between the crash and my perceptions of it, and between 1982 and now — is more significant than it is substantive. Just a few days ago, driving past the airport, I remembered the crash, but in a hazy enough way that I wondered for a moment if I had it confused with some other crash in some other city, or even if I’d dreamed some part of the memory.

Sunday’s paper explains to me, though, the chill I get every time I drive past what is now Louis Armstrong International Airport. One of the runways is visible from the interstate, and when planes land on that strip they pass over the cars below by a bare couple of hundred feet. Chilling enough, particularly in these post-9/11 days. But that bit of nervousness has always seemed to have some non-present origin, one that I could never, before yesterday, fully locate.


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