It was on July 16th, 1999 that John F. Kennedy, Jr. took off from an airport in Fairfield, New Jersey at the controls of his Piper Saratoga with his wife, Carolyn Bessette and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette.

It was reported that he turned down an offer from an instructor to accompany him, saying he wanted to do it alone. They were on their way to Massachusetts for a wedding. The takeoff was uneventful and Kennedy successfully made contact with the control tower on Martha’s Vineyard, which was their first destination. However, the plane never landed. Radar data examined later showed the plane plummeting from 2,200 feet to 1,100 feet in a span of 14 seconds, a rate far beyond the aircraft’s safe maximum. It then disappeared from the radar screen.

In its investigation, the NTSB determined that the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean and the likely cause of the crash was pilot error, saying in its report: “Kennedy's failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation.” Navy divers recovered all three bodies from the floor of the Atlantic; they were still strapped in their seats. The craft was located 116 feet down and about 8 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

Their cremated remains were scattered at sea in a private ceremony with a memorial mass held in Massachusetts. Of course, JFK, Jr. was the son of President John F. Kennedy; one of the 20th century’s most famous photos is of three year old JFK, Jr. saluting his father’s coffin.

AP

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.