Lessons learned from the JFK Jr. crash

Piper Saratoga, It was exactly ten years ago last week (July 16, 1999) that John F. Kennedy Jr. went missing in his Piper Saratoga near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. It was later determined by the NTSB that the crash was caused by "The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation." Moreover, the fact that the weather was officially listed as VFR and this allowed Kennedy to fly that night despite his lack of an IFR rating along with his relative inexperience as a pilot (he also had an injured foot and was under stress in his personal life) also contributed to the crash.

Given the recent anniversary, Thomas B. Haines has posted an entry on the AOPA Pilot Blog where he recalls the day after Kennedy disappeared and how he was contacted by the media relations person at Piper Aircraft who said the company needed help from the AOPA because the media was already pouncing on them. Ironically however, on the following day while flying from Maryland to Pennsylvania, Haines found himself nearly in the same situation that Kennedy faced:

It was technically VFR, but the haze was incredibly thick–even by our usual standards. Even in daylight, I was relying mostly on the instruments, happy to have a solid autopilot in the A36 Bonanza I was flying. By my late-morning return to Frederick, the conditions were even worse, but I had wised up enough to file IFR. I couldn’t imagine flying in such conditions at night and over water with no horizon–especially without an instrument rating. What was Junior thinking?

A very good question indeed. Haines makes the point of always having a plan B for when you think you might be heading into a situation that you may not be able to handle as a pilot and this Plan B may even include just staying at home. Good advice worth heeding.

4 Responses to Lessons learned from the JFK Jr. crash

  1. Matthew Stibbe July 25, 2009 at 07:01 #

    I remember doing my 'cross-channel check' in the UK shortly after I passed my PPL back in 2001. Even though the weather was lovely and we were flying to Le Touquet for lunch, my instructor warned me that the horizon would be blurry. In fact, it was more than blurry and mid-channel I was flying on instruments and feeling very pleased that my instructor was with me. I guess if you weren't expecting this phenomenon, you could easily get caught out.

  2. Vince Foster July 26, 2009 at 21:28 #

    First, this person confirmed that the weather in MARTHA'S VINEYARD the evening of July 16 was generally excellent.

    This person was asked to "take a look" at something–an "internal" report by/from the FAA on the circumstances of that event. In particular this report was concerned with the CONDITION of the aircraft.

    First, the plane in question flown by Mr. John Kennedy was outfitted with every possible bell and whistle available; as well as the most up-to-date communications devices, emergency beacons, autopilot, instruments, gauges, AND Global Positioning technology. Said FAA report is in MAJOR contradiction to the tone and content of the PUBLICLY–and belatedly–released NTSB report. Said FAA report indicates that the aircraft was subjected to a MASSIVE electromagnetic "event" of some kind or other. EVERY SINGLE lightbulb in the aircraft was blown; filaments burned out. ALL integrated circuitry and communications devices were MELTED, fused, fried and toasted in every sense of the word. The voice recorder system was in fact non-functional anyway. Kennedy had forgotten to put in a 9-volt battery. Chalk one SMALL point up to the "operator error" crowd. Electronic sensing units in fuel and engine areas were also sizzled.

    Is this "report" genuine? The real thing? I have no idea, but the person I talked with who saw and held it believes it to be. This person has been a near-perfect source for me in the past.

  3. Matthew Stibbe July 27, 2009 at 06:40 #

    Oh, great. Just what we need – another Kennedy conspiracy theory. With added CAPITAL letters. I wish schools would teach 'Occam's razor' to every student, perhaps tattooing 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem' on every hand. Then perhaps the world would be spared a lot of this nonsense.

  4. skipper August 19, 2009 at 12:58 #


    August 12, 2009

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