OTIS AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., July 18 -- The U.S. Coast Guard said it has suspended the search for survivors from John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane. Rear Adm. Richard Larrabee said tonight that sonar had picked up a number of possible pieces of wreckage on the floor of the ocean in the search area, but searchers did not find the emergency beacon of the missing plane. Kennedy's Piper Saratoga II TC disappeared Friday night while on en route to the resort island of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. His wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, 35, were also on board. Kennedy was 38. Authorities have recovered some pieces of luggage and parts of an airplane they say belong to Kennedy's craft. There has been no sign of survivors, forcing the Coast Guard to change their focus from 'search andrescue' to 'search and recovery.' While the search for Kennedy's plane continued, President Clinton offered the support and prayers of the nation to a family he said has 'suffered much and given more' to the country. 'As the search continues, I want to express our family's support, and offer our prayers and those of all Americans for John Kennedy, Jr.; his wife, Carolyn; her sister, Lauren; and to their fine families,' Clinton said. The president, who has felt a special kinship to the Kennedys and who said he felt especially close to John Jr. and his wife, paid tribute to the political clan that has meant so much to America since the 1960s.
'For more than 40 years now the Kennedy family has inspired Americans to public service, strengthened our faith in the future and moved our nation forward,' Clinton said. 'Throughout it all, they have suffered much, and given more.' National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall said his agency has is investigating the incident. 'We are at the very beginning stages in what will be a painstakingly detailed investigation,' which may take between six to nine months to complete, he said. He said: 'At this point we do not know. We will not know for sometime. There is even a possibility we will never know,' what happened. All-terrain vehicles searched beaches and a Coast Guard jet was sent this morning to follow the signal of a buoy placed last night where the Piper Saratoga was believed to have crashed. A 'grid search' of the suspected crash area began today, and a team of divers is set to begin looking for signs of the plane underwater. Besides three pieces of luggage, Larrabee said, 'We found a wheel and some other parts and last night it was confirmed that those pieces were from the aircraft.' He also said pieces of foam insulation and a head rest were recovered. Larrabee says the Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard believe the plane went down about 17 miles southwest of Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard. The Coast Guard treats every case as if it involves 'a member of our own family,' Larrabee said in response to questions about the apparent extravagance of the search effort. In Canada, the Sunday (Toronto) Star reports today that Kennedy flew to the Toronto suburb of Markham last Monday and did not feel safe piloting the plane alone because of an ankle injury. Kennedy recently injured his ankle in a paragliding accident. The newspaper says Kennedy's foot was in a cast when he landed at Markham and he had asked a flying instructor to accompany him as co-pilot. He had the cast removed Thursday, the paper reports. As the search continues, Massachusetts State Police has asked the public to turn over any potential evidence. 'If they find any debris that they feel is related to the crash... please bring them to the attention of the police authorities on the island here,' said police Capt. Robert Bird. Any evidence, whether pieces of the aircraft or personal items, is essential to the investigation, said Bird, and it is a criminal offense to take possession of debris from an air crash in Massachusetts. The air search was called off Saturday night because of haze building over the waters of Vineyard Sound, creating similar conditions at the time of the apparent crash of the single-engine plane late Friday. A pilot at Fairfield, Kyle Bailey, told CNN he had scrubbed his planned flight to Martha's Vineyard the same evening because he felt flying into the haze was too risky. Some experienced pilots cautioned that the Saratoga was a high- performance aircraft not well suited for a relatively inexperienced flyer. But just as many pilots with Piper experience consider the plane simple to operate, sturdy and reliable. More than 7,500 such planes are in use, officials at The New Piper Aircraft Inc. said. The fabled Kennedy clan and the rest of the nation continued its vigil and contemplated the apparent loss of the high-profile son of President John F. Kennedy, whose assassination in 1963 shocked the world. Kennedy's death would leave his sister Caroline as the only survivor of the White House that was christened 'Camelot' by an admiring public and, to many, symbolized America's halcyon days of the early 1960s. Kennedy flew from Essex County Airport in Fairfield, N.J., around 8:30 p.m. Friday for Martha's Vineyard to drop off Lauren Bessette. The Kennedys planned to continue to Hyannis Port, Mass. for the wedding of Kennedy's cousin, Rory Kennedy, to Mark Bailey at the fabled seaside Kennedy compound. Rory Kennedy is the 30-year-old daughter of Ethel Kennedy and former Sen. Robert Kennedy who was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968 while campaigning for the presidency. The Coast Guard said Carol Ratowell, a Kennedy family friend, phoned the Woods Holes, Mass., Coast Guard station around 2:15 a.m. to report the plane overdue. A search was launched by the Air Force and Coast Guard, but there was no sign of the plane seen until Saturday afternoon when people on Philbin Beach found the luggage and police discovered small parts of the plane. Kennedy was last heard from at 9:39 p.m. Friday when he radioed the airport and said he was 10 miles the island and on final approach, according to WCVB-TV news in Boston. NTSB chief investigator Robert Pierce said no abnormal radio transmissions were heard during the flight. Moments later, radar operated by the Federal Aviation Administration showed the plane had dropped 1,200 feet in just 12 seconds. The plane then disappeared from the screen. The wedding was postponed Saturday when it became apparent that Kennedy wasn't on his way and the Kennedy clan was facing yet another tragedy. ---
Copyright 1999 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---