Kennedy's body, airplane wreckage found
No word on Bessette sisters
July 21, 1999
AQUINNAH, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The wreckage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s airplane was located early Wednesday on the ocean floor off Martha's Vineyard, with Kennedy's body nearby, CNN was told.
Officials said the bodies of his wife, Carolyn, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, had not yet been found.
Kennedy's body was found between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. near a large portion of the plane's fuselage, a source with the National Transportation Safety Board told CNN. The ocean depth in that area is about 115 feet.
President Clinton was notified at the White House about 2:30 a.m. He was told that a remote-controlled camera from the USS Grasp had found the wreckage.
It is believed that the families of the victims also were notified quickly.
The underwater discovery came as searchers using ship-based sonar equipment combed through the waters off the Massachusetts island, looking for wreckage of the single-engine Piper Saratoga II.
They concentrated during the night and into the morning on the "splashpoint" -- an area about seven miles from the southwestern tip of the Massachusetts island, where the plane was believed to have crashed into the ocean Friday night.
Plans call for any body or bodies taken from the water to be brought to the surface before any of the wreckage is raised onto the USS Grasp, a Navy salvage vessel.
Divers from Grasp and the Massachusetts State police had ruled out several suspected wreckage sites this week before finding the plane and Kennedy's body.
The debris from the airplane recovered on Tuesday included a 3-foot-by-3-1/2-foot section of overhead cabin lining, a headrest and pieces of the cabin.
Investigators said radar data indicated Kennedy went through a series of maneuvers, possibly out of confusion, as he began the fatal descent into Martha's Vineyard.
Several experienced pilots who flew into the Vineyard on Friday night said the hazy skies and darkness were challenging, even for them. Kennedy obtained his pilot's license in April 1998.
Some aviators said Kennedy could have been experiencing a common problem among less experienced pilots: spatial disorientation.
"Your middle ear ... can be tricked, and what you think is up is sideways and what you think is sideways is up," said David Hinson, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration.
At a briefing Tuesday, Robert Pearce, who is heading the investigation for the NTSB, gave a more detailed explanation of the approach.
All seemed fine about 34 miles from the airport, with the plane descending from 5,600 feet to about 2,300 feet at a slightly faster-than-normal rate of 700 feet per minute.
About 20 miles from the airport, the plane began turning to the right and climbing back to 2,600 feet.
After leveling off, it flew for a short time before beginning another turn to the right and starting "a rapid rate of descent" that may have exceeded 5,000 feet per minute, or about 10 times faster than normal.
The descent was 3,000 feet per minute faster than what would be a stressful approach for even the most experienced flier, experts said.
Pearce would not speculate on the damage caused by such a crash, but said: "I'm sure you can draw a conclusion by the debris we've been bringing in, which is fragmented."
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Kennedy told acquaintances he was happy to fly solo after having a cast removed from his ankle the day before last Friday's flight.
Kennedy reportedly had felt the need to fly with a co-pilot since breaking his ankle in a paraglider crash three weeks earlier.
The Toronto Star reported Sunday that Kennedy used a co-pilot when he flew to the Canadian city earlier this month, because he didn't feel safe flying with his left ankle in a cast.
Arthur Marx, a Martha's Vineyard flight instructor who had given lessons to Kennedy, told CNN the relatively inexperienced pilot loved to fly, and was cautious in the air. "The last time I flew with him was a year ago, and I definitely did not see the kind of person who took unnecessary risks."
"If anything, (he was) underconfident," said Marx.
Correspondents Martin Savidge and Mike Boettcher contributed to this report.
NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
Federal Aviation Administration
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