Odds Said Stacked Against
Novice Pilot Kennedy In
Marginal Weather
TORONTO - Aviation experts say the odds were stacked against a novice pilot like John F. Kennedy Jr. Friday night. While the cause of the crash could take months to determine, he was flying into Martha's Vineyard under difficult circumstances that would have challenged more experienced pilots.
'It shows a sort of fatal flaw in the Kennedy character' Kennedy, who earned his pilot's licence last year, was qualified for visual navigation only. He wasn't rated to use instruments that help pilots navigate in overcast and darkened skies.
Arthur Marx, a flying instructor at Martha's Vineyard Airport, told Newsworld he'd flown with Kennedy before, though not in the new airplane, a Piper Saratoga PA 32. "I have no idea how good he was in that plane."
Marx told Newsworld that the weather conditions that night were considered "marginal VFR." (VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules.)
That means visibility was 6 to 8 kilometres, which some pilots consider to be safe. Others say those conditions are more difficult in the dark, and the weather over that part of the Atlantic Ocean is unpredictable.
Marx says he would have recommended that a pilot fly that night only if "reasonably competent on the instruments."
At least one other pilot who watched Kennedy take off from the Fairfield, New Jersey, airport Friday night had concerns. He got the weather report and chose to cancel a flight to the same region, due to the hazy conditions.
Another pilot who made the same trip on the same hazy night said he was able to land at Martha's Vineyard only by using instruments to land.
Piper Saratoga PA 32
Others were alarmed to hear that Kennedy had been flying with an injured foot. He recently broke his foot in a paragliding accident.
The Toronto Star reports that Kennedy made a trip to the greater Toronto area last week. He flew his own plane, but was accompanied by a co-pilot who was also a flight instructor.
The newspaper quotes an executive at Magna International as saying Kennedy indicated "he wasn't comfortable flying by himself with a broken foot."
The Star published a photograph of Kennedy at Magna, holding onto crutches.
New York Post columnist Allen Salkin told Newsworld's Ben Chin he believes Kennedy didn't have enough experience to fly in marginal weather conditions. "It shows a sort of fatal flaw in the Kennedy character."
A USA Today reporter, who interviewed Kennedy a couple of months ago, told Newsworld he was excited about his new plane and revealed: "The only person I've been able to get to go up with me, who looks forward to it as much as I do, is my wife."
He received his pilot's licence 15 months ago, and bought a used Piper Saratoga II HP airplane in April.