When John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999, the media quickly deduced that the “Kennedy curse” was still alive and well. After all, JFK Jr.’s father, President John F. Kennedy, and uncle, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, had both been assassinated, making his death all the more ominous.
The late president’s son had scheduled to attend a family wedding on July 16, 1999. John F. Kennedy Jr. hopped into a single-engine Piper Saratoga plane with his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, despite having a damaged ankle. He intended to drop Lauren off on Martha’s Vineyard and then travel with Carolyn to the Kennedy family property in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, for the wedding.
The trio, however, never arrived at their destinations. Kennedy’s plane, which he was piloting alone, crashed into the lake 62 minutes after taking off from the Essex County airport in New Jersey. On impact, the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. Five days later, on July 21st, their remains were discovered, marking yet another awful end for the Kennedy family.
Death of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
However, the mystery surrounding JFK Jr.’s death has persisted since then. Despite the fact that his crash was officially attributed to pilot error, some have suspected that something else happened to him that night in July.
Could Kennedy have wrecked his plane on purpose due to marital and professional issues? Could he have been killed because he inquired too much about his father’s assassination? Could John F. Kennedy Jr., as some conspiracy theorists think, still be alive today?
From his unexpected death in a plane crash to the myths that have persisted afterwards, here’s everything you need to know about JFK Jr.’s death.
The Difficulty Of Being The Son Of A President
John F. Kennedy Jr. looked to have a charmed, if not cursed, life from the start. He was born on November 25, 1960, just weeks after his father, John F. Kennedy, was elected president of the United States. As a result, JFK Jr. spent his early years in the beautiful Kennedy White House.
However, JFK Jr., affectionately known as “John-John” by the American public, experienced tragedy at an early age when his father was slain in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, just three days before his third birthday. When JFK Jr. poignantly saluted the president’s coffin during his funeral three days later in Washington, D.C., he engraved himself into the hearts of Americans.
From then on, John F. Kennedy Jr. maintained a cautious balance in his life. On the one hand, he was carrying the burden of his father’s heritage. On the other hand, he had a strong desire to be his own man.
According to PEOPLE, Kennedy once told a friend, “If I had to stop and think about it all, I would simply sit down and fall apart.”
He went to Brown University and New York University Law School, worked as an assistant district attorney in New York after failing the bar test twice, and started his own publication, George, in 1995.
Before marrying Carolyn Bessette, a Calvin Klein spokeswoman, in 1996, the late president’s son was named PEOPLE’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1988. He had a number of high-profile celebrity romances before marrying Carolyn Bessette, a Calvin Klein PR.
But, despite having it all — a recognized name, a successful job, and a gorgeous wife — Kennedy battled in the months leading up to his death. He had a falling out with Bessette over having children, media attention, and how much time he spent working at his magazine, according to Biography.
By July, however, the couple had put their difficulties on hold to attend the wedding of Rory Kennedy, Kennedy’s cousin and Robert F. Kennedy’s youngest daughter. They’d never make it to the ceremony, unfortunately.
Inside the Death of John F. Kennedy Jr.
John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and his sister-in-law landed at Essex County Airport near Fairfield, New Jersey, on the evening of July 16, 1999. Kennedy would be the only pilot on the mission. Despite the fact that one of his flying instructors offered to join him, he declined, saying he “wanted to do it alone.”
They took off in Kennedy’s single-engine Piper Saratoga plane at 8:38 p.m. They intended to fly to Martha’s Vineyard first, where JFK Jr. and his wife would leave Lauren off, and then to the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, for the wedding. Their voyage should have lasted just over an hour on the first leg, but something went wrong.
According to the Washington Post, Kennedy’s plane fell to 2,500 feet about 62 minutes into the journey as it approached Martha’s Vineyard airport, which was only 20 miles away. The plane then dropped 700 feet and vanished from radar in less than 30 seconds.
Despite the fact that the Coast Guard and the Air Force initiated a search for the missing plane right away, most people assumed Kennedy and the other passengers were dead. One British publication cried, “The Kennedy curse strikes again.” That sentiment was quickly shared by other news organizations.
On July 21st, Navy divers discovered Kennedy and the others. They were 116 feet beneath the ocean waves, eight miles from the shore. An autopsy revealed that all three had died as a result of the collision. Kennedy was 38 years old at the time of the crash, his wife was 33, and his sister-in-law was 34.
Ted Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s uncle, remarked in an impassioned eulogy for him on July 23rd at the Church of St. Thomas More in New York City, “From the first day of his life, John appeared to belong not only to our family, but to the American family.” “We who have loved him since the day he was born and watched him grow into the extraordinary man he has become bid him farewell.”
But how did JFK Jr. pass away? What went wrong with his plane that led it to crash?
JFK Jr.’s Death’s Strange Aftermath
The official cause of JFK Jr.’s death is straightforward. The National Transportation Safety Board said in 2000 that JFK Jr. crashed because he was an unskilled pilot who became disoriented and lost control of his plane in the dark, cloudy night, according to the History Channel.
“The series of decisions he made that night — flying a complex aircraft without a flight plan, choosing not to have his flight instructor accompany him in marginal weather conditions, and piloting an airplane with a foot injury — have grown in significance,” the Boston Globe wrote on the 20th anniversary of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death.
When Kennedy stepped into the cockpit of his plane, he was healing from a fractured ankle, which may have hampered his ability to operate it. He’d only had his pilot’s license for a little over a year at the time. He had only 300 hours of flight time under his belt and may have failed to comprehend some of his plane’s more complicated technology.
Kennedy had problems “remembering what instruments he should have been looking at,” according to air crash investigator Richard Bender, who talked to InTouch Weekly several years after the tragic flight.
“If you don’t have that scan down while you’re flying on the instruments, you can get in a lot of difficulty because your body or brain is telling you that you’re in one place when you’re actually in another,” Bender continued. That’s referred to as spatial disorientation.”
JFK Jr.’s death, in other words, had a terrible reason. Officially, at least.
Other theories have emerged over time. According to US Weekly, others feel Kennedy was a cautious, risk-averse pilot who should have been able to complete his tragic mission with ease. His abrupt death was said to have startled his classmates at the Flight Safety Academy. Many people said he was a safety freak who “passed everything with flying colors,” and a federal pilot examiner branded him a “outstanding pilot” who “passed everything with flying colors.”
If the official version is incorrect and Kennedy did not die in an accident, some have hypothesized that he committed himself as a result of marital or professional troubles. Some have speculated that he was killed because he was investigating his father’s assassination.
Kennedy was said to have been “obsessed” with uncovering the real story behind his father’s death for years. “With his own money, he was going to reopen the probe,” one reporter who covered the Kennedy family recalled, “and then he died, and that was certainly the end of it.”
Some conspiracy theorists have claimed in recent years that JFK Jr. never died at all and is still hiding out in Pennsylvania.
Regardless, the tragedies that defined John F. Kennedy Jr.’s life are often remembered. Regrettably, history may remember him as the young boy who saluted his father’s coffin — and as the guy who died in a plane catastrophe.
- Kennedy Year in Review Archived May 13, 2006, at the Wayback Machine CNN.
- Lucas, Dean (July 22, 2007). “Famous Pictures Magazine – JFK Jr salutes JFK”. Famous Pictures Magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
- Seely, Katherine (July 19, 1999). “John F. Kennedy Jr., Heir to a Formidable Dynasty”. The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2009.