Bodies recovered from Kennedy plane crash
July 21, 1999
OFF MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The bodies of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, have been recovered from the chilly Atlantic waters where they perished in a plane crash Friday.
The bodies -- located by divers under more than 100 feet of water near the point where Kennedy's Piper Saratoga II is believed to have hit the ocean -- were brought to the surface late Wednesday and transported to a Coast Guard station at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
CNN has learned that the Kennedy family has requested a burial at sea. The request has been approved by the U.S. Navy, though no arrangements have been made.
Sen. Edward Kennedy and two of his sons accompanied the bodies to Woods Hole from the crash scene.
The Coast Guard helicopter with Sen. Kennedy aboard could be seen taking off from Hyannisport. A short time later he was seen boarding a Coast Guard boat at Menemsha Harbor. He was accompanied by two of his sons, Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Edward Kennedy Jr.
Pentagon sources who had been brief on the recovery effort said wreckage from the plane was strewn over about 100 yards and was broken into a number of pieces.
Sources said the wings and engine were separated from the fuselage, and that other parts, including the tail and struts were strewn over a wide area.
Kennedy's body was found in the cabin portion of the plane, sources said.
Memorial services planned
The family of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Lauren Bessette have scheduled a memorial service on Saturday at Christ Church, an Episcopal church in their hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The service for the sisters will be held at 7 p.m. ET.
The Kennedy family plans a private Mass on Friday morning for John Jr. and his wife at a church where his mother prayed.
The Mass "to celebrate the lives of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr." is scheduled to take place at the Church of St. Thomas More on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's office said. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis worshipped at the church. President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend.
The single-engine Piper Saratoga II airplane piloted by Kennedy, 38, and carrying his wife and her sister disappeared Friday night on a flight from the Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey, to Martha's Vineyard.
The Dukes County Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Jacobs, said that Barnstable County Medical Examiner James Weiner will lead what he called the "medical recovery" of the bodies and conduct autopsies after they are brought to the surface.
"Dr. Weiner will go to the site," Dr. Jacobs said. He explained that the bodies need to be viewed at the time they are recovered. Then arrangements are made for autopsies on the mainland. An autopsy to determine cause of death typically takes 12 to 24 hours, according to Jacobs.
The Kennedy family was informed of the discovery of John Jr.'s body early in the morning. The White House was notified that the body had been found at 2:30 a.m.
The Coast Guard and NTSB said in a brief statement, "At approximately 11:30 p.m. last night the remote operated vehicle operated from the USS Grasp, operating from data provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, discovered a large portion of the fuselage. The wreckage was found less than a half-mile from the prime point derived from radar analysis."
Sources said between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Wednesday, the remote camera on the ROV identified a body they believed to be the remains of Kennedy.
The Coast Guard said the Grasp had been repositioned over the wreckage site and hard hat diving was beginning. A senior government source said there had been a problem with a camera on the ROV which had caused problems for the recovery crews.
Rescue officials said the "terrain is very difficult, very murky." It is still unclear if the rest of the airplane is nearby.
President Bill Clinton said Wednesday that he had given his approval to extend efforts for the search because of the Kennedys' long history of tragedy and their importance in U.S. history.
"Because the Coast Guard felt that they had the capacity to succeed in this if they had a couple ... more days and because of the role of the Kennedy family in our national life and because of the enormous losses they have sustained in our lifetimes, I thought that it was appropriate to give them a few more days," Clinton said.
The president said he had received no word from the Kennedy family about any burial arrangements.
NTSB Chairman James Hall and Larrabee both canceled interviews with CNN Wednesday morning and headed to the search area where crews were searching.
Investigators said search efforts were concentrated around the "theoretical splashpoint" where Kennedy's plane hit the water Friday night.
A further review of radar data indicated the plane plummeted at a rate "possibly greater" than 5,000 feet per minute in its final seconds, NTSB lead investigator Robert Pearce said.
The splashpoint -- located from information from the FAA, NTSB and preliminary radar data -- is about 7 to 71/2 miles southwest of Gay Head, the southwestern tip of Martha's Vineyard.
A team of 10 Massachusetts State Police divers along with approximately 20 Navy divers from the Grasp were checking the waters at depths of 115 feet, limited to 15 minutes per dive. Visibility was about 8 feet and water temperatures were a brisk 52 degrees F.
NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
Federal Aviation Administration
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