Bodies recovered; sources say JFK Jr. to be buried at sea
July 21, 1999
WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Senior government sources tell CNN that the cremated remains of John F. Kennedy Jr. will be scattered over the sea at a ceremony at 9 a.m. ET Thursday morning.
Officials also said the Navy has given approval for the remains of his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, to be buried at sea, but it was not immediately clear if the family has elected to do so.
Kennedy's burial at sea is contingent on the release of the bodies from the local medical examiner's office, which was conducting autopsies Wednesday night.
The three bodies were recovered by divers Wednesday under 116 feet of water near the point where Kennedy's Piper Saratoga II is believed to have hit the ocean off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Friday night.
Accompanied by Sen. Edward Kennedy and his two sons, the bodies were taken from a U.S. Navy ship to a Coast Guard station at Woods Hole. They were then loaded into two white vans and driven slowly away to the offices of the Barnstable County Medical Examiner in nearby Pocasset.
The Kennedy family requested permission for burial at sea from a Navy ship; the request was approved by Defense Secretary William Cohen. The Navy has been making preparations to use the USS Briscoe, currently on a training exercise off the coast of Cape Cod, for the ceremony.
Pentagon officials tell CNN there are two bases for granting permission for a Naval burial at sea. First, there is a provision allowing for such burials for people providing "notable service or outstanding contributions to the United States."
Also, protocol allows sea burials of the children of decorated Navy veterans. The late President John F. Kennedy was a naval officer wounded and cited for heroism in World War II.
The Kennedy family also announced that a memorial Mass "to celebrate the lives of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr." will take place at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in New York City at 11 a.m. ET Friday.
The 500-seat church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is where John Jr.'s late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, worshipped. President Bill Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, plan to attend the service.
The family of the Bessette sisters also plans a private memorial service at 7 p.m. ET Saturday at Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation in their hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The damaged fuselage of Kennedy's plane was found late Tuesday night by an underwater robotic device equipped with a camera.
At about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, two Navy divers returned to the wreckage site and positively identified the three bodies, which were all located in and near the fuselage, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard Larrabee. They were brought to the surface about 4:30 p.m.
The grim discoveries were made about seven miles off the coast of the resort island of Martha's Vineyard, climaxing an intense five-day search for the missing son of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Kennedy, 38, his wife, Carolyn, 33, and her sister, Lauren, 34, left Fairfield, New Jersey, on Friday night en route to Martha's Vineyard. The Kennedy couple was to travel on to a family wedding at Hyannisport on Cape Cod after dropping off Bessette on the island.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board say the plane apparently went into a steep -- and so far unexplained -- dive, plunging at a rate of more than 5,000 feet per minute.
Larrabee said an 8-to-10 foot section of the fuselage was raised to the surface by the crew of the USS Grasp, a Navy recovery ship. He said recovering all of the crash debris -- some of it spread as far as 40 yards from the fuselage -- will take two days.
"I think today we were able to bring closure to two families, and I think that, we realize, is very important," he said.
Pentagon sources who had been briefed on the recovery effort said wreckage from the plane was strewn over about 100 yards of ocean floor 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.
Sen. Kennedy, the uncle of John Jr. and patriarch of the Kennedy family, was taken to the USS Grasp earlier in the day. With him were his two sons, Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Edward Kennedy Jr.
A Coast Guard helicopter with the senator aboard could be seen taking off from the family compound in Hyannisport. A short time later he was seen boarding a Coast Guard vessel at Menemsha Harbor.
Larrabee said that after the families were notified that the bodies had been found, the senator asked to come aboard the ship and accompany the bodies to shore.
Clinton said Wednesday that he gave his approval to extend efforts for the search beyond the point at which similar searches usually end.
"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.
NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
Federal Aviation Administration
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