CNN - NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire - July 30, 1999
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NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire

piper graphic

July 30, 1999
Web posted at: 3:10 p.m. EDT (1910 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The wreckage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane showed no evidence of an in-flight break-up or fire, federal investigators said Friday.

The propeller showed "rotational damage," meaning it was turning when it hit the water.

The National Transportation Safety Board findings are likely to fuel speculation that it was pilot error rather than a mechanical malfunction that caused the July 16 crash off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Kennedy, his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, died when the Piper Saratoga II he was piloting plunged into the Atlantic.

The NTSB said that in addition to the propeller, it had recovered 75 percent of the fuselage and cabin area, 80 percent of the left wing and 60 percent of the right wing, the engine and the instrument panel.

In a written statement, investigators said they found no evidence "that would have prevented either the engine or the propeller from operating."

A cockpit recording device was recovered from the high-performance plane, but it had been destroyed on impact.

Unlike the cockpit voice recorders aboard commercial planes, the device on Kennedy's plane was not intended to help accident investigators and was not designed to survive a crash.

The NTSB confirmed that Kennedy received his private pilot's license in April 1998. He had accumulated about 300 hours of flying experience, not including time in the Saratoga. He was licensed to fly only under visual flight rules.

Federal investigators confirmed that Kennedy received an Internet weather forecast at 6:30 p.m. EDT for the flight from New Jersey to Massachusetts. The report indicated good visual flight conditions with a visibility of six to eight miles. Kennedy did not take off until 8:38 p.m.

No weather warnings were issued to pilots flying Kennedy's route, which took him over the Long Island Sound along the southern coast of Connecticut.

"However, pilots who had flown over Long Island Sound that evening reported after the accident that the in-flight visibility over the water was significantly reduced," the safety board's statement said. "Interviews of those pilots will continue."

Experienced pilots believe Kennedy became disoriented in his nighttime flight over water, causing him to lose control of his aircraft, which sent it into the water at a rate of 5,000 feet per minute.

The wreckage is housed in a hangar at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where the investigation into the Piper's avionics and instruments and Kennedy's flight time and training is continuing. The NTSB is expected to issue a final report in several months.

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National Transportation Safety Board
United States Coast Guard
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Condolence Page of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
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