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Plane recovery is completed; review to begin

By Mitchell Zuckoff, Globe Staff, 07/24/99

The Navy yesterday completed its efforts to recover the twisted fuselage, broken wings, ruined tail, and other crumpled remnants of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane, and government sources said roughly 90 percent of the wreckage had been salvaged.

By midday, the Navy recovery vessel USS Grasp had raised its anchor from the crash site 71/2 miles off Martha's Vineyard and had begun carting the closely guarded collection of scrap to the Newport, R.I., Naval Base, where it arrived last night.

Upon arrival in Newport, the wreckage was to be placed aboard a flatbed truck for transport to a hangar at the Coast Guard Air Station on Cape Cod, said Navy Lieutenant Commander Victor Beck.

''Everything's aboard that's coming aboard,'' Beck said. ''The Navy's work here is done.''

Starting almost immediately, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will begin a detailed review of the physical evidence left by the July 16 crash that killed Kennedy, 38; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33; and her sister, Lauren Bessette, 34.

NTSB officials declined to comment yesterday on their efforts, citing a news blackout ordered by the board's chairman, James Hall, in deference to the memorial service held in Manhattan and another planned for tonight in Greenwich, Conn., for Lauren Bessette.

Reports on the NTSB's findings were expected to resume next week, though the complete investigation was expected to take six to nine months.

A source familiar with the investigation said the recovery efforts were ''quite successful'' in part because the debris was largely contained within an underwater crash site of roughly 100 square yards.

Before the plane was found late Tuesday by the USS Grasp using a robot search vehicle in 116 feet of water, investigators expressed concern that significant parts of the plane might have been moved by strong currents at the ocean floor.

Now, however, investigators expressed confidence they will have enough of the plane, along with detailed radar tracking data, to reach a conclusion about the cause of the crash.

Still, State Police officials renewed their request that boaters and beachgoers turn in any objects they believe might have come from Kennedy's Piper Saratoga II. Failure to do so could result in criminal prosecution, authorities said.

Officials declined to publicly detail all the parts of the plane found, but they confirmed that the instrument panel, the engine, and the propeller, all of which will be key to the investigation, were among the items recovered. The bodies of the three victims were found in the fuselage, which was brought to the surface along with significant parts of the tail section and wings.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the state Medical Examiner's Office yesterday disputed reports that the autopsies of the three victims did not include photographs of the bodies. Several media outlets reported erroneously that photos were omitted in response to a request from the Kennedy family, which feared they might eventually end up on the Internet or in the tabloid press.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 07/24/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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