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Search for JFK Jr. plane stretches into 2nd day

terrain rover
Searchers on all-terrain vehicles looked for wreckage along the beaches of Martha's Vineyard on Sunday

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July 18, 1999
Web posted at: 1:05 p.m. EDT (1705 GMT)

AQUINNAH, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Coast Guard helicopters completed a painstaking sweep Sunday morning of an area off Martha's Vineyard where officials believe John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crashed Friday night.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard Larrabee told CNN that his team was analyzing the data they had collected, and he would announce their findings at a news conference scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT.

Crews focused their search Sunday around a 550-square-mile area just southwest of Martha's Vineyard, but Larrabee said searchers also were still looking further afield.

"We're really covering a very large area this morning that's 1,200 square miles, and that's to make sure we haven't missed something that drifted away from us," he said.

The search, originally covering a much larger area between Long Island and the Vineyard, shrunk considerably Saturday afternoon when debris and personal items identified as coming from Kennedy's plane was found just off the shore at Aquinnah.

Kennedy; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and her sister, Lauren Bessette, were aboard the single-engine Piper Saratoga II HP when it disappeared. Radar data put the plane about 17 miles from Martha's Vineyard just before it vanished about an hour after takeoff from Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey.

The Kennedy plane had been expected to arrive at Martha's Vineyard about 10 p.m., leaving Lauren Bessette behind while the Kennedys continued on to Hyannisport for a family wedding.

Hopes diminishing

A thick haze grounded search planes overnight, but the sea search continued on a limited basis.

Larrabee said searchers were still hopeful that the plane's passengers 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."

No new debris was found overnight. Taking into consideration tides and currents, officials do not expect any more debris to come ashore until Sunday afternoon.

All-terrain vehicles set out just after 5 a.m. EDT Sunday to comb the beaches of Aquinnah for more signs of the wreckage.

Massachusetts State Police Capt. Robert Bird told reporters that two state police search boats were being deployed to search an area from the Aquinnah coast area to a Noman's Land island about 3 1/2 miles off the southwest coast."

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.

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The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. "Saratoga II TC"
  • The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. "Piper Press Releases"
United States Coast Guard
Federal Aviation Administration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • NOAA ship Rude scanning ocean floor for Kennedy plane
  • NOAA Ship RUDE
  • Side Scan Sonar and Multibeam Sonar
Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce
  • Martha's Vineyard Beaches
  • Aquinnah Town Government
Massachusetts Community Profiles - Gay Head (Aquinnah)
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