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JFK’s Whereabouts Sought Early On

July 20, 1999

AQUINNAH, Mass. (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged today it was asked to locate John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane less than a half-hour after it crashed.

The caller, an airport employee on Martha’s Vineyard, was merely requesting information and had no sense of urgency during his phone call, the agency said.

Any delay in the rescue effort would be moot if Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law died on impact. New radar data showed the plane was diving at a rate up to 10 times normal just before it disappeared from radar.

Also today:

_Divers made preparations to search three new underwater sites in the attempt to find the wreckage.

_ A newspaper reported that the airplane’s registration papers had washed ashore Saturday at beachfront property owned by Kennedy and his sister, Caroline Kennedy.

On board the plane were Kennedy, 38; wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33; and her sister Lauren Bessette, 34. Kennedy, the pilot, planned to drop off his sister-in-law on Martha’s Vineyard en route to a cousin’s wedding in Hyannis Port.

Relatives of the three acknowledged their deaths with words of anguish as investigators revealed the plane had plunged toward the sea at a much faster speed than first believed.

An employee of the Martha’s Vineyard airport telephoned an FAA station in Bridgeport, Conn., at 10:05 p.m. Friday _ 25 minutes after the plane went off radar screens. Adam Budd made the call at the request of an unidentified couple who had come to the airport to meet Lauren Bessette.

Budd said: ``Kennedy Jr.’s on board. He’s, uh, they wanna know, uh, where he is,″ according to a transcript of the call published today in The Boston Globe.

Budd asked if the FAA could track the airplane. But the person at the FAA station questioned Budd repeatedly about who he was and finally told him: ``We don’t give this information out to people over the phone.″

Budd gave up and added: ``it’s not a big deal.″

No action was taken until a 2:15 a.m. Saturday phone call to the Coast Guard by a Kennedy family friend.

FAA officials said they responded appropriately to Budd’s call, and that his tone did not indicate he was worried about the plane.

``It’s policy not to provide that sort of information over the phone,″ Eliot Brenner, an FAA spokesman, said today of the request for information on the plane.

``There was no sense of urgency conveyed. It was a request to track an aircraft,″ Brenner said.

Registration papers for the plane washed up Saturday on Vineyard beachfront property owned by Kennedy and his sister, the Cape Cod Times reported today, quoting unidentified sources close to the investigation.

The soggy papers, turned over to state police that day, did not include Kennedy’s name but did have the plane’s tail number, the newspaper said. The plane was registered to a corporation named Randon Ventures Inc., located at Kennedy’s New York City address.

State police reached today by The Associated Press would not confirm the papers had been found.

Radar information showed that Kennedy’s Piper Saratoga II dropped 1,100 feet in 14 seconds Friday evening as it approached Martha’s Vineyard _ equivalent to 4,700 feet per minute, a speed some experts said was nearly 10 times normal.

``The normal rate of descent you’re shooting for as a pilot is 500 to 700 feet per minute for passenger comfort,″ said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The Piper’s drop was more like ``a dive, not a descent,″ added Drew Steketee, the group’s senior vice president.

Robert Pearce, the National Transportation Safety Board’s chief investigator in the case, was reluctant to characterize the rate of descent as unusual.

``There are various normal rates and it’s difficult to try to compare at this time,″ he said Monday.

But other aviation experts said the high-performance, single-engine Piper generally cannot handle a descent faster than 1,500 feet per minute. A gauge in the plane reads out a maximum of 2,000 feet per minute.

The cause of the drop was unknown.

The six-seat Piper, equipped with a 300-horsepower engine, took off from New Jersey at sunset in haze that reduced visibility to about three to five miles, according to other pilots who flew at the time.

The NTSB said the plane was inspected June 28, less than three weeks before the crash. On July 13, maintenance was performed, including an adjustment of the aircraft’s magnetic compass.

On Monday, families of the three broke their silence.

``We are filled with unspeakable grief and sadness by the loss of John and Carolyn, and of Lauren Bessette,″ said Sen. Edward Kennedy, John Jr.’s uncle.

``John was a shining light in all our lives, and in the lives of the nation and the world that first came to know him when he was a little boy.″

A statement from Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s parents said: ``John and Carolyn were true soul mates and we hope to honor them in death in the simple manner in which they chose to live their lives.″

At Caroline Kennedy’s home on in Bridgehampton, on New York’s Long Island, her three children joined her uncle Edward for a game of basketball.

``That family is so resilient,″ said Heather Macheras, 49, a store owner in Hyannis Port. ``They’ll deal with it as they deal with everything. I’m full of admiration for their strength.″

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