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NTSB Reports Nothing was Mechanically Wrong with JFK Jr.'s PlaneAired July 6, 2000 - 1:04 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's been almost a year since John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and his sister-in-law were killed when their plane crashed off Martha's Vineyard. Now federal investigators released their findings about what went wrong.
CNN's Carl Rochelle joins us from Washington with the details of that report -- Carl.
CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, there are no surprises in the report. It's exactly what we have been expecting for some time from the National Transportation Safety Board. During that year that you mentioned, and we're eight days short of the date of the crash, during that period of time the investigator went through and examined the aircraft that John Kennedy was flying and found in an examination of air frames systems, avionics, and engine; did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact mechanical malfunction, which means, for all practical purposes, that there was nothing wrong with the airplane.
And the NTSB found that the probable cause of the accident was: "the pilot's failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation. Factors in the accident were haze and the dark of night."
Now, what they were really talking about when they talk about spatial disorientation: The airplane is flying over water. It is difficult to see the horizon line where the Earth and the sky meet. That's where your reference of orientation is. Spatial disorientation is when you're head sort of tells you that the airplane is doing one thing when it's actually doing something else. Up, down or sideways, without a great deal of training and flying by reference solely to instruments, it is extremely difficult to do that.
Kennedy was flying a rather high-performance airplane, a Piper Saratoga. It will carry six passengers. This is the airplane very similar to the one that John Kennedy was flying. It is a high- performance airplane. He did have, we are now told, 310 hours of experience in flying airplanes.
He was not quite halfway through an instrument rating course, 12 of 25 lessons had been taken by John Kennedy. And among the lessons the instructor who was teaching him said: He had a bit of difficulty with lesson 11. That is tracking and finding and tracking the VHF on the range and the non-directional beacons, the radio beacons that are used to navigate across country. There was one of those at Martha's Vineyard that he did not apparently latch himself with. And he said the pilot was at a normal level for his level of training, but was having difficulty with multitasking; doing a lot at one time, which an instrument pilot has to do.
I'm Carl Rochelle, CNN, reporting live from Washington.
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