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Divers concentrating on area off Gay Head Light

By Ellen O'Brien and Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff, 07/21/99

AQUINNAH - The underwater recovery team assigned to retrieve the bodies of John F. Kennedy Jr.; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and her sister, Lauren Bessette, is focused on 5 square miles of unpredictable seas off Gay Head Light.

Even on tranquil days, these waters can seem foreboding, but now they seem even more mysterious because they contain clues to a tragedy that has captured the world's attention.

On Martha's Vineyard itself, the search has cast a grim shadow over the Aquinnah estate that Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy treasured and the island where neighbors had known John Jr. since he was a boy.

As the National Transportation Safety Board directs the underwater investigation by Navy and State Police divers, local sea captains scanned the Atlantic for any trace of debris, and dozens of local volunteers combed the shore for evidence.

The crash has many islanders saying they will never again enjoy the view from the striking cliffs of Aquinnah.

''I don't know how anyone could go in those waters now,'' said Anne Vanderhoop, owner of the Aquinnah restaurant where the Kennedys often dined. ''I don't think I will ever again.''

Yesterday, divers ruled out another potential target in the possible debris fields. However, officials said there are at least four others, identified by underwater sonar equipment, that fit the characteristics of airplane wreckage.

The possibility of recovering the bodies will depend on how much of Kennedy's Piper Saratoga HP II remained intact when the powerful, single-engine plane smashed into the ocean, officals said.

But the key to any recovery effort, officials said, is how well divers can see underwater.

And others are mindful that the waters this time of year attract plenty of sharks. ''It's something you don't want to think about,'' said Captain Everett Francis.

Yesterday's seas were as flat as they have been for days, and Francis stood on the tower of his fishing vessel, scanning the water for evidence of the crash.

''I'm not hoping to find anything,'' Francis said. ''But I feel like I have to look, because I know those families must be devastated, not to be able to have a burial.''

While the investigation continues on the ocean, searchers who have spent days along the southern beaches of Martha's Vineyard yesterday ended their quest for clues.

From Tisbury Great Pond eastward to Wasque Point on the tip of Chappaquiddick Island, three dozen walkers and support personnel, working in teams, scanned scattered clumps of seaweed and man-made debris that the surf had cast up on 12 miles of shoreline.

The search concentrated on beaches that had not yet been examined for evidence of the crash. By now, the entire southern coast of the island has been covered.

Yesterday's yield: a headrest believed to be from Kennedy's plane and various pieces of shattered plastic that also might have been ripped from the aircraft on impact, search coordinators said.

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 07/21/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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