UPDATE ON INVESTIGATION OF JOHN F. KENNEDY, JR. PLANE CRASH
July 30, 1999, WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the July 16 crash of N9253N, a Piper PA-32-R301 “Saratoga II.” The crash, which occurred near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, took the lives of all three persons aboard: John F. Kennedy, Jr., the pilot; Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and Lauren Bessette. The plane had taken off from Caldwell, New Jersey about 8:38 p.m. and crashed about 9:41.
About 75 percent of the fuselage/cabin area was recovered by the U.S.S. Grasp. The wreckage was handed over to NTSB investigators in Newport, Rhode Island on Friday night, July 23, and transported to a secure hangar at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, Cape Cod (on the grounds of the former Otis Air Force Base). Included in the recovered wreckage was approximately 80 percent of the left wing, 60 percent of the right wing, the engine and propeller, and the cockpit instrument panel.
Examination of the wreckage by NTSB investigators has revealed no evidence of an in-flight break-up or fire, and no indication of pre-impact failure to the airframe. The recording device that was in the cockpit was found; it was destroyed by impact.
Visual examination of the propeller at the hangar indicated the presence of rotational damage. Both the engine and the propeller were taken by NTSB investigators to their respective manufacturers for further examination, the engine to Williamsport, Pennsylvania (Textron Lycoming) and the propeller to a facility near Dayton, Ohio (Hartzell Propeller). The examinations were conducted under the direct supervision of NTSB investigators. No evidence was found during the examinations of conditions that would have prevented either the engine or the propeller from operating. Both the engine and the propeller have been returned to the hangar on Cape Cod.
The aircraft’s GPS (Global Positioning System) and selected cockpit instruments will be shipped to the NTSB’s laboratory in Washington for further examination. The radios have been hand carried to their manufacturer, Allied Signal in Kansas, for examination by a Safety Board investigator.
The pilot received his private pilot’s license in April 1998. The Safety Board has information indicating that he had accumulated about 300 hours of flying experience, not including time he accumulated in the Saratoga.
At about 6:30 on the night of the accident, the pilot received an Internet weather forecast for flight from Teterboro, New Jersey, to Hyannis, Massachusetts. The report was for VFR (visual flight rules) weather, visibility 6 to 8 miles. No AIRMETS (meteorological reports to airmen) or SIGMETS (reports of significant meteorological conditions) were issued for the route of flight, and all airports along the route of flight reported visual meteorological conditions. 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. Interviews of those pilots will continue.
The Safety Board will continue its examination of avionics and cockpit instruments. It will also continue to document the flight time and training experience of the pilot, complete its aircraft performance analysis based on accumulated radar data, and collect actual weather readings for the time of the flight.
A factual report of the investigation will be prepared by the Investigator-in-Charge, Robert Pearce, and be placed in the public record. This process takes about four to six months. The NTSB will determine the probable cause of the accident based on that factual report. That process will take several more months.
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