US Investigators Say 'Disorientation' Sent Kennedy Plane into Sea

Published July 7th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

John F. Kennedy Jr. lost control of his private plane as a result of "spatial disorientation," leading to his fatal crash off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts last July, investigators said in a final report released Thursday. 

Kennedy, son of the slain US president, his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette were killed July 16th, 1999 when his newly purchased Piper Saratoga II plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Kennedy was heading from New York to attend a family wedding on the exclusive New England resort island when the accident happened. 

The National Transportation Safety Board said in its final report that the probable cause of the accident was "the pilot's failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation."  

"Spatial disorientation" is a state in which a pilot, unable to see the horizon due to poor visibility conditions, loses track of a plane's position and orientation in the sky. 

The agency, which investigates all plane accidents, said it found no indication of a mechanical malfunction and said "haze and the dark night" were significant factors in the tragedy. 

Kennedy, unqualified for piloting a plane by instruments alone, as is required in conditions of poor visibility, obtained weather forecasts indicating clear skies and good visibility, the report said. 

Then, fatefully, he departed on a dark night. The report said the flight proceeded uneventfully until the plane crossed a 48-kilometer (30-mile) stretch of sea short of Martha's Vineyard. 

There the plane plunged to the right, then to the left, then to right again, according to the report. 

"The airplane's rate of descent eventually exceeded 4,700 fpm (feet per minute -- or 1,400 meters per minute), and the airplane struck the water in a nose-down attitude," the report said, citing radar data. 

"Other pilots flying similar routes on the night of the accident reported no visual horizon while flying over the water because of haze," it said. 

The report highlighted Kennedy's lack of flying experience, saying that he had only spent 55 hours in the air at night, and only 9.4 hours at night in his new plane, of which only three hours were spent without a flight instructor - WASHINGTON (AFP) 


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