FLASHBACK: JFK Crash Site Footage Vanishes
(Mark Riley) Video and photographic evidence from the site of the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy jnr has either been destroyed or mysteriously gone missing as a family court battle looms over the accident.
The US Navy has conceded it destroyed up to eight hours of video footage taken by divers recovering the bodies of Mr Kennedy, his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, in the waters off the island of Martha’s Vineyard in July 1999.
At the same time, a large quantity of photographs has apparently been lost between the navy and the organization empowered to investigate aircraft accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The developments have given rise to claims that the Kennedy family used its political influence to have the images destroyed before they could go to a court and become publicly available.
The family already endures frequent rebroadcasting of amateur footage of the assassination of Mr Kennedy’s father, president John F. Kennedy, in a 1963 shooting during a motorcade in Dallas.
Family members did not want to suffer the same pain over John Jr’s death by being subjected to constant replays of graphic footage of the recovery operation.
Navy divers filled four 120-minute VHS cassettes with footage during the operation.
The film included their discovery of Mr Kennedy’s body, wedged from the waist down between the seat and instrument panel of the plane and his arms waving back and forth in the current. It also showed the bodies of Ms Carolyn Bessette and her sister lying crushed and partially obscured behind Mr Kennedy.
A freedom of information application by a United States newspaper seeking access to the film forced the navy to concede at the weekend that it had burned the tapes “out of respect for the family”.
However, the NTSB said it had told the navy it did not need the footage because it had been able to recover almost all the wreckage and determine a cause of the accident from that.
The Bessette family’s lawyers believe the videos would have been crucial to their pending court actions seeking damages from Mr Kennedy’s estate.
The Bessette sisters’ mother, Ms Ann Freeman, and father, Mr William Bessette, are preparing separate suits based on the official finding that the deaths were caused by pilot error on Mr Kennedy’s part.
The Kennedys recently offered Ms Freeman $US10 million ($18.6 million) from Mr John F. Kennedy Jr’s $US100 million estate. The offer was turned down.