Associated Press, 07/24/99
OTIS AIR FORCE BASE - Two flatbed trucks under police escort transported wreckage from the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law to the Coast Guard hangar where it will be examined in detail by federal investigators.
Kennedy's single-engine Piper Saratoga, described as "twisted metal,'' arrived late Friday night, a Coast Guard official said.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation, hopes to learn what happened July 16 that caused the plane to dive into the sea off the coast of Martha's Vineyard - something James Hall, the board's chairman, acknowledges they may never find out.
But as investigators began the task of examining the wreck, reports emerged that there was no mechanical failure in the engine or with the craft's propellers.
CBS news reported Friday night that preliminary reports showed pilot error is suspected to be the cause behind the fatal accident.
Ordinarily, only one regional investigator would be assigned to examine the cause of a small plane crash, NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm told the Boston Herald.
In the Kennedy crash, a team of eight or nine people will investigate, Schlamm said, including specialists such as metallurgists, meteorologists and structures experts.
The safety board will examine all the available parts to figure out how the plane broke up - and the cause of the break-up.
"Was it an impact break? Was there a crack? Was there something preexisting?'' Schlamm said.
Officials are also examining radar data from five states to create a more accurate picture of the plane's path before it crashed about 7 miles off the coast of Aquinnah. They will analyze the plane's history and maintenance records as well as Kennedy's pilot experience for more clues to the flight's final records.
No more of the plane's debris is expected to be recovered, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Victor Beck told The Boston Globe. About 90 percent of the wreckage has been removed from the ocean floor, he said.
"Everything's aboard that's coming aboard,'' Beck said. "The Navy's work here is done.''
A source familiar with the investigation told the Globe the crash remnants were contained to an underwater site of about 100 square yards.
Small pieces of wreckage and clothing have continued to wash up on the beaches around Aquinnah, the village nearest to the crash site.
West Tisbury Police Chief Beth Toomey, said she was relieved the wreckage and bodies were located and removed as quickly as they were.
"We would have been called every two minutes to the beach with the sightings,'' Toomey said Friday.
Kennedy's Piper Saratoga had been recovered from 116-feet below the ocean's surface by the USS Grasp, which docked Friday evening at Newport Naval Station in Middletown, R.I., the closest deep-water port that could accommodate the huge vessel.
The safety board has refused to comment on the condition or specific nature of the recovered wreckage until all memorial services for Kennedy, his wife Carolyn Bessette and her sister, Lauren, are completed, in deference to the families' feelings.
Memorial services were held Friday in New York for Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette, and for Lauren and Carolyn Bessette in Greenwich, Conn.
At the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston on Saturday, flowers, teddy bears, photographs and notes to Kennedy covered a 150-foot section of outdoor wall.
Eleven condolence books were available all for patrons to express sympathies to the Kennedy family. The books receive between 1,000 and 2,000 signatures daily, the museum said.
Sunday will be the last day the condolence will be available to the public. After that, the books will be given to Caroline Kennedy, Kennedy's older sister and the last living child of the late president, at her next visit, museum officials said.