On This Day

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John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy

On This Day: JFK Jr. Dies in Plane Crash

July 16, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. died along with his wife and sister-in-law when their plane crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

JFK Jr. Killed in Plane Crash

Shortly after 8:30 p.m. on July 16, John F. Kennedy Jr. took off from Essex County Airport in New Jersey in his Piper Saratoga plane with his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, on board. He planned to drop off Lauren in Martha’s Vineyard and then continue to Hyannis Port, where his cousin Rory was getting married.

At about 9:30 p.m., 34 miles west of Martha's Vineyard Airport, Kennedy began his descent through haze and darkness. About seven miles from the shore, he made a right turn away from his destination and ascended several hundred feet.

After Kennedy turned back left and resumed a descent, his plane turned right and began a rapid descent of 4,700 feet per minute, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s official report of the accident. The “airplane struck the water in a nose-down attitude,” reported the NTSB.

U.S. Coast Guard officials immediately began a rescue search, and in the days that followed, the Air Force, Navy and civilians scoured the waters in hopes of saving the trio. Luggage from the crash wreckage surfaced on July 17.

“There is always hope,” said Coast Guard Lt. Gary Jones. “But unfortunately, when you find certain pieces of evidence, you have to be prepared for anything.”

As days passed, Americans began to lose hope that any passengers would be found alive. On July 21, divers recovered the three bodies eight miles offshore. A memorial ceremony for the three was held on July 22, where their remains were scattered at sea from a navy destroyer, the USS Briscoe.

The NTSB released its official report in 2000, which concluded that the probable cause of the accident was Kennedy’s “failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation. Factors in the accident were haze, and the dark night.”

With only 310 hours of total flight practice when the incident occurred, Kennedy was considered an inexperienced pilot who could not yet deal with night conditions or flying over water.

Biography: John F. Kennedy Jr.

John F. Kennedy Jr. was born Nov. 25, 1960, just weeks after his father John F. Kennedy was elected president. Growing up the White House, “John-John” was a national celebrity.

A graduate of Brown University and NYU Law School, he served as a prosecutor in New York for four years. He was named “Sexiest Man of the Year” by People magazine in 1988 and attracted America’s attention as he dated celebrities like Madonna, Brooke Shields and Daryl Hannah.

Although the opportunity to preserve the family legacy by holding a political office presented itself several times, John was not interested. He resigned from his job as prosecutor to pursue publishing, and, in 1995, launched George magazine, which was subtitled “not just politics as usual.”

A year later, he married former Calvin Klein publicist Carolyn Bessette in a secret ceremony.

A History of Tragedy in the Kennedy Family

The death of JFK Jr. is just one in a series of tragedies that has shaken the Kennedys. Joseph Jr., the eldest child of Joseph Patrick and Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, died in a plane crash while serving as a Navy pilot in World War II, and his sister Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948. Rosemary, the eldest daughter in the family, was mentally incapacitated following a lobotomy when she was 23.

John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, three years after he was elected president. Three days later, on his 3rd birthday, John-John saluted his father’s casket at the funeral.

Five years later, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for a presidential nomination. His son David died in 1984 of a drug overdose and his son Michael died in a skiing accident on Dec. 31, 1997, just 17 months before the death of JFK Jr.

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