WASHINGTON_A long-awaited transcript of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s last conversation with air traffic control was released Wednesday but revealed little about the flight in which he was killed in July 1999.
Records show a mere 34 words were exchanged between Kennedy and an air traffic controller as he requested and received permission to taxi to a runway for takeoff from a small airport in New Jersey headed to Martha's Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast.
Kennedy, who was flying under visual flight rules, was not in contact with anyone on the ground when his Piper Saratoga plunged into the Atlantic about seven miles from Martha's Vineyard.
"Caldwell Ground, Saratoga niner two five three November, ready to taxi with mike at airbound right turnout northeastbound," Kennedy said. He was requesting permission to taxi to the runway from the control tower in Caldwell, New Jersey, which handled traffic at New Jersey's Essex County Airport.
The controller directed him to runway 22. "Five three November to two two, thanks," Kennedy said, repeating the last few digits of his tail number.
That was the end of radio contact as Kennedy took off in his single-engine airplane at 8:38 p.m. Friday, July 16, 1999. The night was dark and hazy enough that another, more experienced pilot changed his mind about making the same trip to Martha's Vineyard from the same airport.
Flying with Kennedy were his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette. He planned to drop Bessette off at Martha's Vineyard and then fly on to Hyannis, Massachusetts, for a family wedding the next day.
Additional transcripts reveal a flight service specialist in Connecticut, a neighboring state, discussing with Boston air traffic controllers "a lady" who called looking for a "possible overdue aircraft."
As they checked around for information about the missing airplane, they seemed completely unaware that the son of the late President John F. Kennedy was at the controls, that the call came from the Kennedy family circle, or that a massive recovery effort would soon be under way.
"I guess the guy's a pretty new pilot," one Boston air traffic controller said to the supervisor at the Federal Aviation Administration's Automated Flight Service Station in Connecticut. "So if he didn't file a flight plan, we're pretty much out of luck then, huh?"
With the supervisor's agreement, the controller said he'd just tell her "just have her call the, uh, the police, and have them go out and look for the plane."
On a separate transcript, Kennedy's relative Carole Radziwill called the Boston air traffic control supervisor, who identifies himself as Kenneth Dye. She tells him she's looking for "a friend of mine" who was supposed to be in Hyannis by then.
"Would you happen to know the pilot's name?" Dye said.
"John Kennedy," she said.
"OK, OK, what's your name and number," Dye said.
"He's relatively new, you know. He only got his license a year ago. Maybe I'm just, like, paranoid, but I'm just getting nervous."
Radziwill's husband, Anthony Radziwill, was a close friend of Kennedy's. He would die of cancer less than a month later.
The search for the missing trio wouldn't begin until Saturday morning. Their bodies were recovered four days later, and they were buried at sea.
Federal investigators later concluded that Kennedy was unable to see the horizon while flying over water in low visibility. They believe he flew the airplane into a turn that he couldn't get out of and crashed into the water.
The audio clip released Tuesday by the Department of Transportation was the result of a federal Freedom of Information Act request filed by broadcasters after the crash.
This release contains factual information developed during the NTSB's investigation.
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