John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Death In a Plane Crash

Getty John F. Kennedy Jr.

Tonight, ABC is airing a documentary titled The Last Days of John F. Kennedy, Jr. The documentary will focus on the untimely plane crash that claimed the lives of not only JFK, Jr. but his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette and his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy as well. Given that some viewers may want to learn more about the tragic crash, we’ve assembled the details surrounding it below.

On July 16, 1999, Kennedy took off from Essex County in New Jersey in his single engine plane. He had purchased the plane only three months prior, and had an estimated 300 hours of flying experience at the time. According to the History Channel, Kennedy had turned down an offer by one of his flight instructors to accompany him, stating that he “wanted to do it alone.”

Kennedy, Jr. Turned Down an Offer to Have a Co-Pilot Accompany Him

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Due to the flight conditions that night, Kennedy would be forced to depend on his instruments, but he had not yet qualified for a license to fly with only instruments. To make matters worse, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association states that Kennedy had broken his ankle six weeks earlier in an ultralight crash on Martha’s Vineyard. The cast was removed the day before the flight and AOPA states that it was likely he was still in pain. Witnesses have since claimed that they saw Kennedy hobbling on crutches shortly before he boarded the flight.

Kennedy was to drop off his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette at Martha’s Vineyard. After that, he and his wife Carolyn were to fly on to the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod’s Hyannis Port to attend the wedding of Rory Kennedy. Rory was the youngest child of the late Robert F. Kennedy. Of course, the plane never made it to Martha’s Vineyard.

Radar Data Shows That the Plane Plummeted At an Alarming Rate Before Disappearing from Sight

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History Channel reports that radar data from that night showed the plane plummeting from 2,200 feet to 1,100 feet in a span of 14 seconds, which is a rate far beyond the aircraft’s safe maximum. Shortly after the anomaly was recorded, the plane disappeared from the radar screen.

Additional details provided by the AOPA were as follows: Kennedy failed to make radio contact after leaving Essex County Airport. He filed no flight plan, and failed to make a request for flight following. It is unclear whether Kennedy was monitoring key frequencies during the flight, but he reportedly came so close to a commercial jet at Westchester County Airport that the collision alarm on the jet was triggered. Furthermore, his autopilot was not in use at the time of the crash, despite the fact that he knew how to properly use it.

Kennedy & the Bessette Sisters Were Recovered 5 Days After the Crash

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Kennedy’s plane was reported missing by friends and family members, and an intensive rescue mission was launched by the Coast Guard. On July 21, divers recovered his body along with the Lauren Bessette and Carolyn Kennedy. The latter two were found near the fuselage, while Kennedy was still strapped in his pilot seat.

After investigating, the National Transportation Safety Board officially declared that Kennedy’s plane had crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and that the probable cause of the crash was “[Kennedy]’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation”. Read the full report here.

The Last Days of John F. Kennedy, Jr. airs at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.