Adam Budd, an airport employee, made the call at around 10pm. Preparations for the subsequent search and rescue operation began four hours later, after a friend of the Kennedys phoned the Coast Guard about the missing plane.
There is no certainty, however, that starting the search four hours earlier would have made a difference. Latest radar information shows that thePiper, bearing Mr Kennedy, his wife, Carolyn, and her sister Lauren Bessette lost altitude over the water at 4,700 feet a minute, or roughly 50 miles an hour, 10 times the normal descent rate.
The radar data - timed at 9.40pm - revealed that the aircraft had been making a normal descent towards Martha's Vineyard but, 20 miles from the airport, it had suddenly veered to the right, climbed back up 2,000ft, and then began a precipitous drop at a rate of about 5,000ft per minute.
The impact probably caused the aircraft to disintegrate, which could explain why small pieces of debris continue to wash up on nearby beaches. Yesterday a plastic folder containing the registration documents of Mr Kennedy's plane was reported to have been washed up on a beach beneath a holiday home he inherited from his mother, on the western shore of Martha's Vineyard.
Investigators said last night that sonar equipment had detected one particular object on the seabed, which divers were immediately sent to investigate.
The brief conversation between Mr Budd and an official at the FAA control centre in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was recorded in a verbatim transcript obtained by The Boston Globe. Mr Budd asked for information that the centre might have about the missing plane, but it is clear the person at the FAA was disinclined to take the call seriously.
Mr Budd asked if the centre might have tracked the plane, and added: "Actually, Kennedy Jnr's on board. He's uh, they wanna know, uh, where he is ..." But he quickly becomes apologetic and fails to press harder. The FAA employee said: "Well, we don't give this information out to people over the phone." Mr Budd replied: "OK, well, if it's too much trouble, it's ..." He paused and said: "Take it easy." Then he hung up.
Thirty Navy and police divers are checking possible debris fields off the island that have been identified by sonar on the ocean survey ship, Rude. A US Navy vessel, Grasp, is near, with heavy-duty cranes capable of lifting any large pieces of debris.
There was still no word yesterday on any funeral or memorial arrangements for Mr Kennedy or his passengers. The White House quashed rumours that any remains of JFK Jnr would be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery beside his father, the late president, and his mother, Jackie. No request for permission to lay him to rest at the site had been received from the family, a spokesman said.Reuse content