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JFK Jr.’s Plane Reported Missing

July 17, 1999

MATTITUCK, N.Y. (AP) _ A small plane carrying John F. Kennedy Jr. to a wedding in Massachusetts was reported missing early today, and a search was under way off the coast of New York’s Long Island, Coast Guard officials said today.

The plane took off from Essex Airport in Caldwell, N.J., at 8:45 p.m. Friday and was carrying Kennedy, his wife Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, the Coast Guard said.

The passengers were en route to the Cape Cod-Martha’s Vineyard area where the Kennedy family was gathering for a wedding today in Hyannisport, Mass. The Kennedys were due to arrive in Martha’s Vineyard at 10 p.m. Friday, a source in Washington told The Associated Press.

Under hot, hazy skies, Coast Guard crews and the Air Force scoured a large swath of sea today from eastern Long Island to Martha’s Vineyard, along the presumed flight path of Kennedy’s plane.

Government sources said an emergency beeper signal was received at about 2:15 a.m. today off Long Island, and rescue crews were sent to the area off Mattituck. No subsequent signal was heard.

But according to Coast Guard Lt. Craig Jaramillo, the plane was last detected on radar just miles west of Martha’s Vineyard.

President Clinton, who is spending the weekend at Camp David in western Maryland, was told about the disappearance of the Kennedy plane by John Podesta, his chief of staff, shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday, the White House said.

Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said the president was being kept informed of the progress of the search for the missing aircraft.

``President Clinton was informed early this morning of the reported disappearance of the airplane carrying John F. Kennedy Jr. and others, including his wife, Carolyn,″ the White House statement said. ``All our prayers and thoughts are with the families of those on board.″

Jamie Gaspar, an operations specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, said Kennedy’s plane was supposed to arrive Friday night, but never did.

``I’m a little worried, because I know him personally,″ Gaspar said.

Eddie Martin, of Hyannisport, who described himself as a friend of the family, said he was told Kennedy was headed for Martha’s Vineyard and was then to go to the wedding of a cousin, Rory, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in Hyannisport

According to an earlier announcement from the office of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the couple was to be married today before 275 guests in a private ceremony.

The wedding today was postponed indefinitely and family members were sequestered in the Hyannisport compound, said Brian O’Connor, a spokesman for Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former congressman.

The source familiar with the search told the AP that the Kennedy plane had no flight plan, to the knowledge of the Federal Aviation Administration, though the pilot was not required to file one.

The Kennedy family contacted the FAA when the plane, a Piper Saratoga, was overdue, and the agency began checking airports along the route, the source said.

The Coast Guard and Air National Guard then started a search.

Kennedy, 38, is the only surviving son of the 35th president, and was born just two months before his father’s inauguration.

His father’s assassination immediately thrust him into the public eye with with the poignant photo of the little boy saluting as his funeral procession passed.

Unlike other family members, Kennedy never entered politics. After graduating from Brown University, he went to law school and joined the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The law didn’t hold much appeal for Kennedy, and in 1995 he launched the magazine George _ subtitled ``not just politics as usual.″ A year later, Kennedy _ once dubbed ``the sexiest man alive″ by People magazine _ married girlfriend Carolyn Bessette.

Thirty years ago Sunday, a car driven by Kennedy’s uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., plunged off a bridge and into water on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard. A passenger in the car, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, was found dead in the car’s back seat about 10 hours later.

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