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(UPI Focus) Hopes fade for missing Kennedy plane AQUINNAH, Mass., July 17 (UPI) - After a daylong unsuccessful search for a missing single-engine plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr., the National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation into the aircraft's disappearance. An official statement tonight says an NTSB team has been dispatched to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts as the Coast Guard continues to coordinate "aggressive search-and-rescue activities." As daylight faded, Air Force helicopters returned to Otis Air Force Base, to resume the search Sunday morning. Hopes faded today as bits of debris from the Piper Saratoga were recovered and a piece of luggage was positively identified as belonging to Lauren Bessette, Kennedy's sister-in-law. Kennedy's wife, 33-year-old Carolyn Bessette, was also traveling with him. The luggage, along with what appeared to be an airplane tire, washed up on Philbin Beach on Martha's Vineyard, and Lauren Bessette's name was on the tag of a black suitcase, said First District Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Gary Jones. Jones said other debris - a head rest and carpeting that appeared to be from the plane - were found this afternoon floating in the water about 100 yards from nearby Gay Head Beach. Kennedy and the Bessette sisters were traveling from Caldwell, New Jersey, to Hyannis Port for the wedding of Mark Bailey and Rory Kennedy, the last unmarried daughter of Ethel Kennedy and the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The event was postponed, and what should have been a joyous gathering of the clan turned into a grim vigil as members of the Kennedy family waited anxiously at their storied oceanfront compound for word on the fate of the three. An outdoor family mass was held, presided over by three Roman Catholic priests, as Mrs. Kennedy, other family members and around 275 guests gathered to pray. Among those present were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy, Rory's older brother and JFK Jr.'s cousin, and U.S. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who is married to Kerry Kennedy. John Kennedy's older sister, Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg, was away on a rafting trip and had not planned to attend the wedding. Sen. Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., was also away in California and immediately flew back to Boston, according to media reports. Family spokesman Brian O'Connor said the family was initially hopeful that the three would be found alive. But he said the mood at the compound turned somber when debris, apparently from the plane, began washing up on the western end of Martha's Vineyard. There was no immediate comment from any of the family members. Before the effort was scaled back at sunset, Rear Adm. Richard M. Larrabee told journalists the Coast Guard was still in a search-and- rescue mode. But the dispatch of federal investigators suggests authorities are now presuming the plane has crashed. Coast Guard cutters equipped with high-powered lights will continue to search the sea south of Martha's Vineyard throughout the night. Earlier in the day, the Civil Air Patrol withdrew from the search 15 aircraft that were combing a 15-by-15-mile grid from Long Island to Martha's Vineyard after debris and luggage washed ashore on Philbin Beach. Jones said the Coast Guard was notified about the missing plane at around 3 a.m. EDT, and the search started immediately. About 15 Coast Guard and Air Force aircraft and some 150 personnel joined in the search. Kennedy, a licensed private pilot, was expected to arrive at Martha's Vineyard Airport in Massachusetts in his Piper Saratoga II TC sometime before 10 p.m. Friday. At 9:39 p.m. Friday, Kennedy radioed the airport and said he was 13 miles from the airport and 10 miles from the coast, according to WCVB-TV news in Boston. He reportedly said he was making his final approach. Moments later, radar operated by the Federal Aviation Administration showed the plane went into a dive and dropped 1,200 feet in just 12 seconds, according to ABC News. In his final approach message, WCVB-TV said Kennedy told controllers at the airport that he planned to drop off his wife's sister and then take off again between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. for Hyannis Airport. Kennedy's family then called Hyannis Airport - around 2:15 a.m., reports say - when he failed to arrive. The airport then checked with the Martha's Vineyard airport, and the search began. The plane took off from Essex County Airport in Caldwell, N.J., at 8:38 p.m. Friday and lost contact with the FAA on its final approach to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., said Coast Guard spokesman Steve Carleton. An emergency beacon thought to belong to the plane was activated and heard by the Coast Guard in Long Island, N.Y., at 3:40 a.m. But as the search went on, authorities seemed to discount the relevance of the beacon signal. Kurt Hartman, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard's district headquarters in New Haven, Conn., said this morning, "We received a call from our district office in Boston directing us to conduct a shoreline search off Horton Point, in Long Island Sound, for an emergency locating transmitting beacon." But by 10:30 a.m., the Coast Guard was no longer receiving a signal from the emergency beacon that was believed to be on Kennedy's small plane. Petty Officer Virginia Adams in Boston confirmed to United Press International that the Coast Guard lost the signal Saturday morning. Adams also confirmed that Kennedy was piloting the plane, and that his wife and sister-in-law were aboard. Jamie Gaspar, spokesman for Martha's Vineyard Airport, told UPI that "someone was at the airport to pick up the passengers on the plane, but it never arrived." A reporter for the Vineyard Gazette newspaper told WCVB-TV in Boston that he was out walking Friday night about the time of the crash and saw "big white flash in the sky" off Philbin Beach. Kennedy did not file a flight plan, leading some to first suspect he altered his route. But by 9 a.m., his arrival at Martha's Vineyard was more than 12 hours late, and the Kennedy family postponed the wedding he was traveling to attend. The Air Force and Air National Guard mounted a massive air search using helicopters, Falcon jets and a TC-130 aircraft over a 1,000- square-mile search area that eventually concentrated on Martha's Vineyard. The ongoing Coast Guard search involves a 47-foot utility boat, two 41-foot utility boats and an 87-foot patrol boat, as well as two Coast Guard helicopters. Expected to join the search late tonight was a special ship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration equipped with sonar to conduct underwater searches. A special infrared-equipped helicopter was also set to join the nighttime search. Its temperature-sensitive equipment is capable of detecting a person in the water. Kennedy Jr. - the only son of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the nephew of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. - has worked as an assistant district attorney and is currently the editor of the political magazine George. Kennedy, 38, married Carolyn Bessette during a secretive ceremony in 1996. WCVB-TV says Kennedy got his pilot's license last year after undergoing training at Flight Safety International, a respected pilots' school in Florida. He was licensed to fly visually, but not by using instruments alone. Visibility at the time was reported to be 8 miles, clear enough to fly without instruments. The Piper Aircraft Co. says the six-passenger plane Kennedy was flying was built in 1995. WCVB-TV says Kennedy bought it in April of this year. White House Chief of Staff John Podesta telephoned President Clinton this morning at Camp David with news of the missing plane. Clinton and Kennedy have met often. In a statement issued from Camp David, where he is spending the weekend, Clinton said, "All our prayers and thoughts are with the families of those on board." The president has asked to be kept informed about the search effort. Kennedy is a native of Washington. He was born on Nov. 25, 1960, just two months before his father was inaugurated as president. -- Copyright 1999 by United Press International. All rights reserved. -- Copyright 1999 by United Press International
Okay. We now know from eyewitness accounts and from the weather radar picture that the air was actually clear enough for people on the ground to see aircraft out over the ocean. Ergo, if this witness saw a white flash up "in the sky" (as opposed to "on the ocean") then it was indeed up in the sky.
Note that this article also reports 8 mile visibility.
I hadn't noticed it before, but the beacon signal is interesting. It starts at about the correct time for the crash, but in the wrong location, then just as mysteriously shuts off sometime later. Misdirection?
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