JFK Jr.'s Death

Research by Brandon Wolf

Friday, July 16, 1999

  • 8:39 PM: Kennedy's plane departed. He had checked in with the FAA tower at Martha's Vineyard Airport in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, before take-off.
  • 9:33 PM: The plane, still headed northeast, began descending from its cruising altitude of 5,500 feet.
  • 9:38 PM: The plane while still descending began a slight turn to the right so that it was headed due east, lining itself up with the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard. John Jr. always did this so he could fly over his late mother’s Red Gate Farm.
  • 9:38 PM and 20 seconds: The plane completed the turn and stopped its descent, leveling off at 2200 feet. But it’s against FAA regulations for a plane to fly below 2,500 feet without first contacting the tower. So in a manner that’s typical of John’s carefulness and following procedures, he brought the plane back up to 2,500 feet.
  • 9:38 PM and 50 seconds: With wings level, the plane was on final approach, with 14 miles to go to the airport. At 200 mph, the plane would land in about 5 minutes.
  • 9:39 PM: John contacted the tower. He said he was 13 miles from the airport and 10 miles from the coast. He reportedly said he was making his final approach. In his final approach message, 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. (This information was provided by Coast Guard Petty Officer Todd Burgun, who said he got it from the FAA.)
  • 9:40 PM and 15 seconds: The plane suddenly dove out of the sky, falling 2,500 feet in 45 seconds, crashing into the water at 200 mph.
  • 10:00 PM: A well-dressed couple with a child who had come to the airport to meet Lauren Bessette grew concerned when the plane did not arrive as expected by 10 PM.
  • 10:05 PM: Adam Budd, an employee at Martha’s Vineyard Airport is approached by the friends of Lauren Bessette, who said she should have arrive at 9:44 PM. ''Actually, Kennedy Jr.'s on board. He's, uh, they wanna know, uh, where he is,'' Budd told an unidentified FAA employee at the Bridgeport Automated Flight Service Station. Budd said:
  • During his conversation with the unidentified FAA employee, Budd asked if the FAA could track an airplane. Budd said he was with airport operations at Martha's Vineyard, then mentioned Kennedy's name and provided two possible aircraft numbers for Kennedy's plane.
  • The employee questioned Budd repeatedly about who he was and where he was calling from. After Budd gave his name, the FAA employee asked if he was, in fact, with airport operations. He ultimately told Budd, ''We don't give this information out to people over the phone.''
  • 11:00 PM: Senator Edward Kennedy contacted the FAA to let them know the plane was missing. The FAA officials did nothing.

Saturday, July 17, 1999

  • 2:15 AM: Carol Radziwill, fed up with the FAA, called the Coast Guard and set in motion a multiagency search that began with calls to regional airports.
  • 3:28 AM: An official search and rescue mission is launched by the Coast Guard.
  • 6:30 AM: Ted Kennedy woke up John Podesta, Clinton’s Chief of Staff.
  • 7:00 AM: Podesta woke up Clinton.
  • 7:15 AM: Clinton told Podesta to call the Air Force and warn them if they didn’t have a search underway in 15 minutes, they shouldn’t bother to come to work Monday morning because they would all be fired, if they weren’t in jail.
  • 12:30 PM: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Todd Burgun, a public information officer, holds a standard briefing, as he did in all other search and rescue operation.
  • 12:35 PM: WCVB (Boston) news anchor Susan Warnick reports there is a significant new development in the case of Kennedy's missing plane. "We have been told by the Coast Guard that in fact there is now evidence of a last communication, last night, with JFK Jr.'s plane as it was on approach to Martha's Vineyard Airport.”
  • Warnick then holds a phone interview with Petty Officer Todd Burgun: “JFK, Jr. contacted the Martha’s Vineyard tower at 9:39 pm, Friday night, telling them he was descending. All I know at this time is that it was at 9:39 PM, and it was with the FAA and it was on approach."
  • 1:00 PM – Beachgoers on a beach just a short distance from Jackie’s beach find items from plane, floating in to land. They bring them in, and phone the police.
  • 1:55 PM – In a surprise move, the Pentagon takes over reporting of news of the crash. They deny anything Burgun had said. Burgun disappears from history.

Sunday, July 18, 1999

  • All Day: The search continues.

Monday, July 19, 1999

  • All Day: The search continues.

Tuesday, July 20, 1999

  • 11:30 PM: A large portion of the plane's fuselage was found, by a submerged camera device.

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

  • 1:30 AM – Divers locate JFK Jr.'s body in the cockpit, which has snapped away from the fuselage. The Bessett women are found in the fuselage. All three are strapped in their seats with seat belts.
  • 2:30 AM: The White House is notified.
  • 4:30 AM: The bodies are brought up. Teddy and several Kennedy men are there to accompany them. Teddy goes on board and identifies the bodies. They are then taken to Barnstable County Medical Examiner's Office in Pocasset to be autopsied.
  • 9:30 AM: President Clinton is updated.
  • 11:00 PM: The bodies arrive at the Duxbury Crematory, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, accompanied by several Kennedy cousins, and are cremated.

Thursday, July 22, 1999

  • 5:00 AM: Kennedy family members leave the Crematory with the ashes. 
  • 9:00 AM: The Kennedys and Bessetts board the destroyer USS Briscoe. They travel 20 miles out to sea, where they scatter the ashes, from a small platform on the lower rear of the ship.

Friday, July 23, 1999

  • 11:00 AM: A memorial service for JFK Jr. and Carolyn is held at St. Thomas More church in New York City.
  • 7:00 PM: A memorial service for Lauren Bessette is held at Christ Church in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.