New data obtained from radar sites along his route late on Friday showed his plane travelling for most of the journey along the southern coast of Connecticut, whose lights should have been visible from the cockpit. As he approached his destination, however, he turned right over the open ocean. An inky summer haze hanging over the area would have made navigation difficult.
Speculation over the cause of the crash, which killed JFK Jnr, his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren, came as teams of forensic divers investigated two potential debris fields in the Atlantic Ocean. They were identified by sonar scanning equipment on board an ocean survey ship, the Rude, about five miles off the western coast of Martha's Vineyard.
"We are the eyes of the side-scan sonar," William Freddy, leader of the diving teams, said yesterday. "We will go down and determine what they hit."
The divers will also examine the sites for the three bodies. Late on Sunday, officials admitted for the first time that there was no chance of finding survivors from the accident. They confirmed that what had been a search and rescue mission at the weekend had become a search and recovery operation. "This is not the result were were looking for," Coast Guard Rear-Admiral Richard Larabee said flatly. Minutes earlier he had telephoned both families with the news.
The seabed in the area is about 80 feet deep, and described as sandy with some rocky outcrops: finding the Piper plane should not be difficult. "The aircraft will be found," said Arnold Carr, an expert with Underwater Search and Survey. "It's a question of will it take a day or five days."
There was still no word from the Kennedy family yesterday. Its members remained closeted in their summer compound in Hyannisport on Cape Cod, where they had expected to spend the weekend celebrating the wedding of Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Bobby Kennedy. It was thought that a memorial service for JFK Jnr, 38, could be held in New York City this week. There is no word on where he might be buried.
Aviation experts have questioned his decision to make the night flight, given the murky conditions at the end of a very hot, humid summer's day. The plane took off from Essex airport at 8.39pm, minutes after sunset. With barely 100 hours of solo flying time, JFK was a relative novice as a pilot. He had only bought the Piper in April. Night flights are not unusual for small planes, but the rate of accidents for such journeys is double the rate for day-time flights.
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