Full-scale search resumes for Kennedy plane
July 18, 1999
AQUINNAH, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Searchers launched a painstaking search Sunday morning of the sea south of Martha's Vineyard, where John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane is presumed to have crashed Friday night.
A thick haze in the area grounded planes overnight, but the sea search continued on a limited basis.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard Larrabee said searchers were still hopeful that Kennedy; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, could be found alive, but those hopes were diminishing.
"The water temp is 68 degrees," Larrabee said. "The survivability in those waters has been exceeded, but I think those are only statistics and they're only factors in all of the things we're looking at."
Debris from the single-engine, six-seat Piper Saratoga II was found 100 yards off Martha's Vineyard Saturday afternoon, and luggage from the flight washed up on the beach, the Coast Guard said.
No new debris was found overnight. All-terrain vehicles set out just after 5 a.m. Sunday to comb the beaches of Aquinnah for more signs of the wreckage.
A Coast Guard Falcon jet took off at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, looking for a buoy launched Saturday afternoon at the spot Kennedy's plane was last seen on radar. Searchers plan to chart the buoy's drift to determine a start point for the search.
A pair of H-60 helicopters, each with a crew of four, will plot a careful grid over a 17 1/2 by 10-mile area, a search expected to take four hours.
Massachusetts State Police Capt. Robert Bird told reporters the search "may be expanded to an island that's about 3 1/2 miles off the southwest coast called Noman's Land."
Bird said the island, now a National Wildlife Refuge, was once used as a military target. Any search of the island will be conducted only on its shores, he said, because of the threat of unexploded munitions.
With Kennedy, 38, at the controls, the single-engine Piper Saratoga took off for Martha's Vineyard from Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey, just after 8:30 p.m. EDT Friday.
But the plane never arrived at the Massachusetts resort island, where Kennedy was to drop off Lauren Bessette, 35, before he and his 33-year-old wife continued to Hyannisport for a family wedding.
The Kennedy family notified the Federal Aviation Administration that Kennedy's plane was overdue shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday. After contacting airports along the plane's possible route to see if Kennedy had made an emergency landing, the Air Force and Coast Guard launched a search for the missing plane.
The search narrowed to the area just off Martha's Vineyard Saturday afternoon after Bessette's suitcase and other items, including airplane parts and personal items, were found along Philbin Beach.
Officials at the Coast Guard's Cape Cod command center said three cutters were deployed in the search Saturday night and early Sunday morning -- the 87-foot Hammerhead, with a crew of 10, and the 110-foot Point Wells, with a crew of 17. The third cutter, the 110-foot Sanibel, with 17 crew members, joined the search early Sunday.
A fourth cutter, the 225-foot Willow, with a crew of more than 25, was expected to get underway by 10 a.m. Sunday.
NOAA's high-tech, side scanner-equipped ship Rude -- pronounced Rudy -- began searching Saturday night, the Coast Guard said. Rude is the same ship used to comb the ocean floor for the victims and wreckage of TWA Flight 800, which crashed off Long Island three years ago Saturday with 230 people on board.
The the Kennedy family had gathered at Hyannisport for the wedding of Rory Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and his wife Ethel, to book publisher Mark Bailey. The mood among the family was described as hopeful but realistic.
Rory, 30, was born after her father's assassination in 1968.
The Kennedy-Bailey nuptials were postponed, and family and friends instead attended a private Mass at Ethel Kennedy's home.
The Kennedy family has made no public comment.
Kennedy and Bessette Kennedy were married in 1996 in a private ceremony on Georgia's Cumberland Island. She previously worked as a publicist for Calvin Klein. Lauren Bessette is a venture capitalist and has a twin sister, Lisa Ann.
Kennedy, founder of the political-cultural magazine George and son of assassinated president John F. Kennedy Sr., bought the plane he was flying three months ago, a year after he got his pilot's license. He had been known to joke that no one would fly with him except his wife.
NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. "Saratoga II TC"
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.