The Kennedy Crash: Shocked Nation - The most potent name in the US is missing, presumed now lost for ever

LIFE IN the America of politics, money, the media and the baby- boom generation was on indefinite hold yesterday, in anticipation of the truth that no one wanted to accept. The male line of JFK had ended; there would be no JFK III.

For more than 24 hours, the main news channels - networks and cable alike - had prodded, cajoled and shamed their contributors into speaking of John F Kennedy Jnr in the present tense.

By midday yesterday, though, with the US Coast Guard noting, almost in passing, that the period of "survivability" in the Atlantic waters had been exceeded, even the boundless optimism so unique to Americans was in retreat. The present tense was progressively yielding to the past, and no one was inclined to "correct" the error any more.

That the loss of JFK Jnr was a signal political event for America was clear from the start: from the delay in announcing that his small Piper plane was missing (six hours after its non-arrival was reported by the family) to the scale of the search, to the saturation coverage in the media, not just by the 24-hour cable channels, whose business is news, but to the networks, whose normal weekend fare is pre-recorded talk shows and films. Many a weekend of swimming and barbecues was interrupted as the luminaries of US broadcasting, the Tom Brokaws, Dan Rathers, Peter Jenningses and Larry Kings were summoned into work.

Not that they needed much summoning: these are the men of the JFK generation. The disappearance and likely death of JFK's only son is in a way the end of their story, too; the story that has framed their professional lives.

Their early tributes yesterday set the tone for what is likely to be a period of high-class mourning by America's liberal elite: for the Kennedy family, for their own gilded youth, and - with a tinge of self-centred arrogance - for America.

The Kennedy historian, Arthur Schlesinger, said in a special issue of Time magazine that JFK Jnr had been "liberated" when he took up flying and was a responsible pilot. But he also mourned what might have been. "JFK Jnr," he wrote, "cared too much about the state of the nation, especially about the increasing disparities of wealth and opportunity in American life, to live out his life as a spectator. He was destined, I came to feel, for political leadership."

In a detailed account of events leading up to John Kennedy Jnr's death, the magazine described him as "America's prince, an icon of both magic and grief" and expressed relief that his mother had not lived to see this day. "This woman who had taught the country how to mourn in grace, we could not have borne to watch her bury her son." There was heartfelt sympathy, too, for Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, John's sister, who is now the lone survivor of the JFK line.

Elders and contemporaries of JFK Jnr recalled the affecting pictures of "the boy we called John-John", saluting at his father's funeral at the age of three. It is an episode that John himself averred that he could not remember. But it was this innocent patriotism and family loyalty, as much as anything else, that had endeared John Kennedy to all Americans old enough to watch the funeral on television, and etched the hope that he would become the same, but different, sort of Kennedy in later life.

President Clinton, who consciously modelled himself on what he regarded as the best of the late President Kennedy (and found himself also emulating the worst) was kept constantly informed, Americans were told. Clearly concerned not to give a family tragedy - however keenly felt - the aura of a national crisis, he remained at the presidential retreat of Camp David rather than returning to Washington. But the White House said Mr Clinton had spoken by telephone to the head of the Coast Guard, Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee, who was directing the search operation around midnight on Saturday "to thank him for the work they have done ... and encourage him to go at it full bore in the morning".

The President's reticence was not matched, however, by other members of the US political establishment, who weighed in from both sides of the political fence to acclaim the presumed victim.

"John Kennedy Jnr," said Vice-President Al Gore, "has carried his legend with enormous grace ... America could use his grace and endurance right now." Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and a Mormon, commended the Catholic Kennedys as "a family of great faith".

Most newspapers and magazines were also in posthumous tribute mode. "More tears," said the banner headline of the tabloid New York Post. "Even now," said The Boston Globe, "no words prompt so much anguish, so much grief, so much disbelief, as these: John F Kennedy is dead. Those words flew around the country ... in frantic electronic pulses, though this time it was not news of a president, but of his son."

While the tone of reminiscence nationwide has been predominantly elegiac and respectful, there have been exceptions, representing a populist strand of anti-Kennedy sentiment that accompanied the whole "Camelot" legend from the start. Such comments could be heard on the street and flourished on the Internet; their authors resent the family's money, object to the saturation television coverage, deplore the taxpayers' money spent on the search and even welcome a world with one fewer Kennedy.

Nearly all the tributes, however, were laudatory. One running theme was how different JFK Jnr and his sister, Caroline, were from the rest of the Kennedy clan, thanks - many commentators ventured - to the upbringing they had received at the hands of their mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

JFK Jnr, friends recalled, was gentle, and had impeccable manners, and always wanted to achieve something on his own account. He would not rely on the family name or money to make his way.

And yet, in his last action, it it tempting to see an element of the reckless bravado that has characterised so many male members of the Kennedy clan. Risks with drugs, drink, sex and fast cars have punctuated the family history from the bootlegging patriarch, Joe Kennedy, who made the family fortune during Prohibition, through the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick, to the most recently deceased, Michael Kennedy - son of the late senator and presidential hopeful, Robert - who crashed into a tree while playing a boisterous game of "ski-football" on New Year's Eve 1997.

John Kennedy Jnr had broken his ankle in a paragliding accident in May. When he set off, with his wife and her sister, to attend his cousin's wedding at Hyannisport on Cape Cod, he was just out of the heavy plaster cast, but still in a lighter splint, and still on crutches. A fellow pilot at the Essex County airfield in New Jersey saw his crutches put on board.

His aircraft, the turbo-charged Piper Saratoga was described by one flying buff as the "sports utility vehicle" of private planes - the American term for the giant four-wheel-drive cars that are much derided by saloon-car drivers as the bullies of the road. He had bought it only in April, and held his pilot's licence only 14 months. He was qualified, by virtue of additional lessons, to fly the Piper, but not "on instruments" - ie only when visibility was good enough to fly by sight.

The plane, it emerged additionally yesterday from the Coast Guard, was not equipped with life-jackets, life-raft, or an emergency beacon that would function under water. But then most of his trips - like those of very many American private flyers - would be over land, where such equipment is not a requirement.

According to the Federal Aviation Authority, which advises pilots on conditions, the weather on Friday night was sufficiently good to fly by sight and without a flight plan. However, one experienced pilot, Kyle Bailey, interviewed at the Essex County airfield the next day, said he had decided against flying the previous evening because of the haze, which could be treacherous, especially at dusk.

While the cause of the crash is far from being established, and could still be accounted to a catastrophic malfunction of the plane, the early theories focus on John Kennedy's limited experience in the cockpit of his Piper, the density of the haze and the tendency of the horizon between sea and sky to merge at dusk, disorienting less experienced pilots, and the loss of dexterity due to his ankle injury.

Why, it is being asked, given these limitations, did he decide to fly that night?

One theory is that he was doing his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, a favour: she needed to be in Martha's Vineyard that evening, and he wanted to oblige. He and his wife could spend the night on the island and fly on to Hyannisport for the family wedding next day. By all accounts, that combination of chivalry and bravado would have been typical.

There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice