What Actually Happened to John F. Kennedy, Jr.?


John Hankey is a long-time investigator who has focused much of his attention on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He produced a documentary setting force his views on that event. Hankey has also turned his attention to the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on Friday, July 16, 1999. Hankey has produced a 104-minute DVD documentary entitled The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Much as I liked the earlier documentary, I liked this one even better. According to the widely accepted explanation, Kennedy was a reckless pilot whose died because of his own carelessness. But Hankey shows that Kennedy was actually a careful pilot who was most likely the victim of foul play. Persons who are interested in the death of John Kennedy, Jr should watch Hankey's documentary, the basic outline of which I shall summarize here.

Hankey takes as his point of departure two overlooked pieces of evidence in the official report that the National Transportation Safety Board published one year after the crash. First, the radar data describing the path of Kennedy's plane showed that just as Kennedy was making his final approach to the Martha's Vineyard Airport, his plane, in the absence of any explosion or engine malfunction, suddenly plunged headfirst into the ocean, falling 2500 feet in 45 seconds. Secondly, the fuel selector valve on Kennedy's plane was found to have been turned to the off position.

The bizarreness of Kennedy's sudden dive into the ocean is obvious, but the equally bizarre fact that the fuel selector valve had been turned off requires an explanation that the official NTSB report did not provide. The fuel selector valve has two functions, one a pilot uses frequently and the other infrequently. The first and frequently used function is to tell the engine from which fuel tank to draw its fuel. Kennedy's airplane contained two 51-gallon fuel tanks, one in the right wing and the other in the left wing. Inasmuch as fuel is heavy, if the engine uses fuel from only one of the two wings, that wing becomes much lighter than the other wing and the airplane as a whole becomes lopsided. To avoid this unsafe weight distribution, a pilot sees to it that as his engine burns fuel, each tank still has approximately the same amount of fuel as the other tank. He does this by moving the switch on the fuel selector valve back and forth between the right tank and the left tank during the course of a flight.

The second and much less frequently used function of the fuel selector valve is to cut off all fuel to the engine from both tanks. It is obvious that a pilot would not ordinarily want to do this in the course of a flight, as it would shut down the engine, but he might have to do it if the engine caught fire. By turning the fuel selector valve to the off position and cutting off the flow of inflammable fuel to the engine, a pilot could see to it that the fire burned itself out. A fuel selector valve is constructed in such a way as to prevent a pilot's turning it off by mistake. Whoever turned the fuel selector valve off on Kennedy's plane knew what he was doing and did so deliberately.

The fact that Kennedy's airplane inexplicably dove straight into the ocean together with the fact that somebody turned off the fuel selector valve suggests that someone aboard Kennedy's plane committed suicide. Whoever he was, he probably first grabbed the controls and forced the airplane into a headfirst dive at 200 mph. He next turned the fuel selector valve off, not to force any engine fire to burn itself out, as indeed there was no fire, but to make it impossible for anyone else on board to correct the situation. With all fuel cut off, the engine stopped working. Without a working engine, no one could redirect the aircraft in time to prevent a crash.

This scenario may seem fantastic until we realize that only about 100 days later and only about 50 miles away from the site of Kennedy's crash, this is precisely what happened aboard Egypt Air Flight 990. On October 31, 1999, not long after takeoff from JFK Airport in New York City, Gamil al-Batouti, a member of the Egyptian Air flight crew with no apparent reason to commit suicide, suddenly forced the Egyptian Air Boeing 757 jet into a headfirst dive and then turned off the fuel selector valve. The plane crashed helplessly into the ocean, taking over 200 passengers, including many Egyptian military officers, to their deaths.

But skeptics might say that we cannot compare the crash of Kennedy's plane with the crash of Flight 990 because there was no one on board Kennedy's plane who would conceivably do what Gamil al-Batouti did on Egyptian Air Flight 990. Certainly neither John Kennedy, his wife, nor his wife's sister would commit such a senseless act, and they were the only ones on Kennedy's plane. Or were they?

Strong evidence suggests that there was a fourth passenger, a flight instructor, on Kennedy's plane. Now there were no eyewitnesses to the boarding of Kennedy's airplane, so there is no one who could tell us for certain how many persons he saw boarding it. But we have eyewitnesses who saw Kennedy, his wife, and his sister-in-law waiting for about 45 minutes in the airport lounge before takeoff. Given that time was passing, visibility was declining, and darkness was falling, what were they waiting for? Hankey believes that they were waiting for a flight instructor. But what if the flight instructor failed to show up? Would Kennedy have had no choice but to take off without a flight instructor? Not at all. Kennedy could easily have gotten another flight instructor on short notice. We also have eyewitnesses on the Coast Guard rescue team who state that when they arrived at the crashed airplane, they found one of the seats to be missing. Perhaps the rescuers had to remove a body that was still strapped to its seat.

Kennedy's own comments to friends before his flight also suggest that a flight instructor likely boarded the airplane. For example, on the day of his fatal crash, Kennedy had lunch with Richard Blow, Kennedy's co-editor at George Magazine. Noticing that Kennedy was nursing a broken foot and was still on crutches, Blow expressed concern about the wisdom of Kennedy's flying. Kennedy told Blow not to worry because he was taking a flight instructor. Similarly, Kennedy had told a Canadian acquaintance that he would continue to fly with a flight instructor until his broken foot healed. Immediately after the crash, Carol Ratowell, a friend of the Kennedy Family, told Channel 5, the ABC affiliate in Boston, that Kennedy was flying with an instructor.

Indeed, the NTSB could not find any evidence that Kennedy had ever flown his two-month-old Piper Saratoga airplane without a flight instructor. The reason for his always taking a flight instructor is not difficult to find. His new airplane contained many advanced safety and other features that he had not had on his previous airplane. He would have benefitted from having a flight instructor to familiarize him with the new bells and whistles.

And if that were not enough, there were at least three additional reasons for Kennedy to hire a flight instructor. First, Kennedy was not flying by himself, but was also taking his wife and sister-in-law along with him. Would not these two women have felt safer with a flight instructor, especially since Kennedy was still on crutches? Secondly, Kennedy was trying to add an instrument rating to his private pilot's single-engine land license. He had already passed both the written examination and the performance evaluation, but he still needed to log more hours with a flight instructor to fulfill his requirements for his instrument rating. Thirdly, Kennedy must have known that difficult weather conditions could arise between New Jersey and Martha's Vineyard that would require a flight instructor. His license permitted him to fly according to visual flight rules, but what if he had to use instruments? In that event, it would have been illegal for Kennedy to fly without a flight instructor. Kennedy had flown the same route from Caldwell, New Jersey to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts 8 times that summer. Kennedy took a flight instructor on all 8 of those flights, and for good reason, because on 5 of them, visibility was too poor to fly without instruments. As it turned out, visibility was so good on July 16 that Kennedy did not need a flight instructor, but he could not known that in advance. It would have made sense to bring one just in case.

Now a skeptic might say that all the logical reasoning suggesting Kennedy had a flight instructor is vain because investigators recovered no bodies other than those of Kennedy, his wife, and his sister-in-law. Therefore, Kennedy must not have had a flight instructor because no one recovered any flight instructor's body. Or did they?

Between the time that Kennedy's plane went missing and the time that the Coast Guard arrived at the wreckage, over 15 hours passed, time for all sorts of things to happen. Curiously, the circumstances of the case were such that the Federal Aviation Administration should have ordered a search within minutes after Kennedy failed to land at Martha's Vineyard. According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Todd Burgun, Kennedy contacted the Martha's Vineyard control tower at 9:39 p.m. on Friday night, shortly before what was to be his landing. If Burgun is right, the control tower would undoubtedly have picked up Kennedy's transponder signal and responded by assigning Kennedy's airplane a transponder code. That code would automatically have been entered into FAA computers so that the FAA could track Kennedy's plane for the remainder of its flight. If Kennedy's plane had either dropped below 100 feet or failed to land within 5 minutes, an alarm would automatically have sounded at the FAA, which would then have ordered a search. Inasmuch as Kennedy's plane crashed into the ocean and never landed at all, the FAA had two reasons to order a search, and to focus that search on the approaches to Martha's Vineyard. Instead it did nothing.

According to the official explanation, the FAA did nothing because it did not know that Kennedy's plane had crashed because Kennedy had not contacted the FAA at the Martha's Vineyard control tower. The official explanation thus implies that Burgun was in error when he said that Kennedy had contacted the control tower. But Burgun's statement that Kennedy had contacted the tower at 9:39 p.m., made to Channel 5 News on live television, had a ring of truth to it because it dovetailed so well with proven FAA data. The latter showed that Kennedy had still not contacted the Martha's Vineyard tower by 9:38 p.m. and that his airplane plunged into the ocean at 9:40 p.m. Therefore, if Kennedy had contacted the control tower at all, he must have done so at exactly 9:39 p.m. Unless Burgun was an incredibly lucky guesser, he must have gotten his information from the FAA itself. We can therefore assume that the information Burgun passed on to Channel 5 News was correct.

Despite the failure of the FAA to order a search after Kennedy's plane failed to land, members of the Kennedy Family kept pressing the FAA for action throughout the night, all to no avail. Around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, just before Kennedy's plane was to land, several of Lauren Bessette's friends had gathered at the Martha's Vineyard Airport to greet the airplane. When the plane failed to land, they notified Adam Budd, an airport employee and licensed pilot, who in turn telephoned both the FAA in Bridgeport, Connecticut and the Martha's Vineyard Airport control tower. But the FAA did nothing. At 11 p.m., Senator Ted Kennedy, John Kennedy's uncle, telephoned the FAA to report the missing plane. But even though he was a United States Senator, he had no luck either. Around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, the aforementioned Carol Ratowell gave up on the FAA and called the Coast Guard. Now the FAA, facing grave embarrassment, had to do something, so it called the Air Force, which in turn ordered the Coast Guard to search for Kennedy's plane but at the same time ordered the Coast Guard to do only what the Air Force told it to do. Specifically, the Air Force told the Coast Guard to search an area that was far away from the approaches to Martha's Vineyard. Needless to say, the Coast Guard, which did not know the precise location of the crash, came up with nothing. Around 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, a desperate Senator Kennedy telephoned John Podesta, President Clinton's Chief of Staff, and explained his frustration. Podesta then telephoned Clinton immediately. Clinton responded by telling Podesta to call the Air Force and demand that it begin a search within 15 minutes. The Air Force responded by telling the Coast Guard to take 2 boats and 2 helicopters on a wild goose chase across 20,000 square miles of ocean. Once again, the Coast Guard, which still did not know the precise location of the crash, came up with nothing.

The Air Force defended its failure to help the Coast Guard narrow down its search with precise information by claiming that it did not have that information, but Hankey provides ample evidence that the Air Force did have it. We have already seen that Kennedy had contacted the Martha's Vineyard control tower, and that the FAA must have known that Kennedy's airplane had gone down in the approaches to Martha's Vineyard. But other sources of information available to the FAA also located the crash site. Indeed, anyone watching Hankey's documentary can see the site pinpointed on the same Channel 5 television picture that viewers in the Boston area saw on that Friday night. The captioning on the Channel 5 screen makes it clear that it was the crash-activated emergency locator transmitter aboard Kennedy's plane that had pinpointed the wreckage. But even if the emergency locator transmitter had not done so on Friday night, the FAA radar analysis did so when it was completed at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning. Despite all the tools now at its disposal, the Air Force still refused to order a focused search on Saturday morning. Instead it kept the Coast Guard spread out over a vast expanse for another 5.5 hours. In the end, of course, the Coast Guard did get to the crash site, but not with any help from the FAA or the Air Force. Around 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, a piece of luggage from the crashed airplane washed up on the beach, and it was this that enabled the Coast Guard to pinpoint the site and to get to the wreckage.

Hankey believes that there was a conspiracy behind both Kennedy's death and the 15-hour delay. After successfully getting Kennedy's plane to crash, the conspirators persuaded confederates at high levels of both the Air Force and the FAA to delay the Coast Guard search so that the conspirators could get to the scene first and remove any incriminating evidence. Indeed, there is evidence that someone arrived well before the Coast Guard. Around noon on Saturday, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Stanley of the Civil Air Patrol said that he had seen helicopters that he assumed belonged to the Coast Guard near the crash site at around 7 a.m. that morning. But since the Coast Guard did not arrive until 1 p.m. that afternoon, the Coast Guard was not what Stanley saw. Then what did he see? Probably persons sent to do three things: first, remove the body of the flight instructor, who Hankey suspects was a Manchurian Candidate hypnotized into crashing Kennedy's plane. This would explain why the Coast Guard did not recover the body of the flight instructor. Secondly, remove Kennedy's flight log, which would have listed all persons on board the airplane. This would explain why Kennedy's flight log, which might have proven that there was a flight instructor aboard, disappeared even though the turquoise duffel in which Kennedy always kept his flight logs was intact. Thirdly, remove the backup battery from the cockpit voice recorder. This would explain why although investigators recovered the cockpit voice recorder, they were not able to get any information out of it. A cockpit voice recorder records whatever the crew says in the last few minutes of a flight, but it needs a backup battery to retain this information. Once the battery goes, so does all the data.

An extensive coverup followed the mysterious death of John Kennedy, Jr that resembled other coverups over the years. Hankey has studied many other coverups, and has learned that although the details in each case are different, they all followed a common pattern. In each case, honest eyewitnesses provide the initial evidence to reach the public. Soon, however, certain government officials in league with the conspirators step in and remove these eyewitnesses from public view, seeing to it that no one hears from them again. Next they manufacture evidence to support a previously agreed-upon and different version of events while omitting all further mention of the initial evidence. Compliant members of the mainstream media then sell this new version to the public. This happened after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, and it happened again after the death of his son, John Kennedy, Jr. in 1999.

It all started with the Pentagon's telling reporters and others curious about the crash of Kennedy's airplane that they could not expect any more information from the government agencies that had helped them earlier. Henceforth, they must take all their questions to the Pentagon. Why the Pentagon? Kennedy was not a member of the military. He was not flying a military aircraft. His flight had no military purpose. Hankey believes the conspirators chose the Pentagon because it had previously signed on to the coverup.

The Pentagon got right to work by telling a long series of lies designed to portray John Kennedy as a reckless pilot. Among other things, it insisted that there had been no flight instructor on Kennedy's plane despite the testimony of Carol Ratowell that there had. It insisted that Kennedy had not contacted the control tower before landing, in spite of the testimony of Todd Burgun that he had. It also made the dubious assertion that Kennedy had not filed a flight plan with the FAA in spite of the fact that he had done so on all 8 of his previous flights along that same route that summer. The Pentagon insisted that nobody reported the plane missing until 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, in spite of the fact that members of the Kennedy Family and others had been calling the FAA starting as early as 10 p.m. Friday night and continuing into Saturday morning. Honest reporters who tried to make sense of what was happening, like Linda Killian of People Magazine, were cut off.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Todd Burgun was mysteriously reassigned in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Burgun's earlier statement to Channel 5 that Kennedy had called the Martha's Vineyard FAA control tower at 9:39 p.m. on Friday night had been very damaging. If Burgun were right, then the FAA would have had to explain its decision not to order an immediate search. If given an opportunity to speak, Burgun would probably have disputed the Pentagon's claim that Kennedy had not contacted the Martha's Vineyard control tower. But no one heard from Burgun again.

On the Saturday morning after the crash, the perception that Kennedy was a reckless pilot was given a big boost when persons identifying themselves only as "the family" told Channel 5 both that Kennedy may not have had a proper license to fly an airplane and that he did not have a flight instructor on board. These two pieces of information, the first of which was certainly false and the second almost certainly false, strengthened the belief that Kennedy's own carelessness was the cause of his crash. Of course, in the heat of the moment and without time to do research, the Channel 5 understandably accepted this information at face value. But inasmuch as we have more time than Channel 5 had to reflect on this matter, we should ask some questions that they did not ask. Just who were these mysterious persons who identified themselves as "the family?" Why did they not give their names? Were they even members of the Kennedy Family at all? If they were really members of the Kennedy family, did they know that Kennedy had a private pilot's licence? Did they believe that Kennedy had been flying for seventeen years without a licence?

The NTSB had a full year to clear up these questions before it issued its final report, but it did not make constructive use of that time. In the end it merely repeated all the contradictions and inconsistencies that had been there from the beginning. The NTSB should at least have investigated the telephone call Kennedy made on his cell phone just before takeoff. The NTSB undoubtedly had a record of that call. Under normal circumstances it would have investigated it and included its findings in the final report, yet it did not do so this time.

To top it all off, the NTSB report seemed to put all doubters of the official version on the defensive with a stunning revelation. It said that Robert Merena, one of Kennedy's flight instructors, had told the NTSB six months after the crash that he had offered to fly with Kennedy. According to Merena, Kennedy turned down Merena's thoughtful offer with the explanation that he wanted to "do it alone." This revelation made headlines and confirmed the view of Kennedy as a reckless pilot. But quite apart from the fact that Merena's own lawyer later denied that Merena had made that statement, there are reasons to be skeptical about Merena's revelation. For one thing, the NTSB memorandum in which Merena revealed that Kennedy wanted to "do it alone" was suspiciously irregular. It did not say when and where Merena gave this interview, nor did it have Merena's signature. These were all serious violations of standard protocol. And why did Merena wait 6 months after the crash to come forward? Why did he not mention it in the earlier interview he gave the NTSB five days after the crash? Merena's statements there imply that Kennedy did have a flight instructor on board. For example, Merena did say that to the best of his knowledge, he never saw Kennedy flying his plane without a flight instructor, and left it at that. Since Merena did not say anything about Kennedy's either wanting or not wanting to "do it alone" this one time, one would infer that Kennedy had a flight instructor on July 16 as well. Merena tried to clear up the confusion by saying that he did not mention Kennedy's statement that he wanted to "do it alone" in his interview five days after the crash because he had already mentioned it in his letter to the NTSB earlier on the same day that he gave the interview. Yet that letter contained no mention of it either.

Thus we have seen strong evidence that the death of John Kennedy, Jr. was the result of a conspiracy. But who were the conspirators? There have been rumors that the Clintons might have had something to do with Kennedy's death, but the evidence Hankey marshals makes that seem unlikely. Hankey, who has a bias against Republicans in general and the Bushes in particular, believes that George W. Bush is the chief suspect. Unfortunately, the only evidence that Hankey can give in support of his position is that on the morning of Kennedy's death, Bush, who had been campaigning in Iowa, boarded a bus and disappeared for several days. Beyond that Hankey offers only conjecture and speculation. Unless someone can provide more evidence than that, it will take an extensive criminal investigation to clear up the mystery of Kennedy's death. But that a criminal investigation is necessary there is no doubt in the mind of anyone who bothers to watch Hankey's documentary.

December 27, 2010