Data Showed Kennedy Plane
Descended In 'Graveyard Spiral'

HYANNIS PORT, Massachusetts, (AFP) - John F. Kennedy Jr.'s single-engine airplane went into a steep descent known as a "graveyard spiral" seconds before it crashed into the ocean, investigators said.
In the last 14 seconds of flight tracked by the radar, Kennedy's Piper Saratoga dropped at 1,400 meters (4,700 feet) per minute.
At that speed, the plane fell 330 meters (1,100 feet) during 14 seconds, lead investigator Robert Pearce told reporters in Cape Cod Monday.
"To get an airplane like that to descend at 4,700 feet a minute, you would almost have to point it straight at the ground," said C.O. Miller, flight instructor and former senior crash investigator for the government.
"The fact that they have found so many fragments of the airplane suggests they did come down pretty fast and pretty steep," he added.
Aviation experts said Kennedy's Piper Saratoga 32 was rated for a maximum safe descent speed of 1,500 feet per minute.
At the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, members of the extended family Tuesday awaited news of the search for the plane wreckage that took the life of the son and namesake of the former president along with his wife Carolyn and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette.
Divers failed to make headway in searching for the wreckage in the shark-infested waters. On Monday they explored one possible crash site, but found nothing, said US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee.
At least nine other sites are considered possible crash sites, but divers were not able to explore them, he added.
So far, searchers have found pieces of the plane's interior, including a rug and some molding, as well as the right wheel and brake from the plane's landing gear.
The Kennedy family stayed behind the low white fence of their Hyannis Port compound to share their grief and pray after accepting the grim news.
The flag at the entrance to the compound of white clapboard houses was discreetly lowered to half staff as a steady rain fell Monday evening.
Acknowledging for the first time that there was no chance of finding them alive, a statement issued by Senator Edward Kennedy expressed the family's "unspeakable grief and sadness by the loss of John and Carolyn and of Lauren Bessette."
"John was a shining light in all our lives and in the lives of the nation," the statement said.
Earlier, a friend of the Bessette family read a statement at their Connecticut home saying: "John and Carolyn were true soul mates and we hope to honor them in death in the simple manner as they chose to live their lives.
"These three people personified love, accomplishment and passion for life," the statement said, adding that they took comfort in the thought that John, 38, and Carolyn, 33, "will comfort Lauren for eternity."
The family statements were issued after the US coast guard announced that the search for survivors was being called off and transformed into a "search and recovery" operation.
John F. Kennedy Jr, namesake of the slain US president, died on his way to his cousin Rory's wedding at the Kennedy compound here, scheduled for Saturday.
He was preparing to land Friday evening at Martha's Vineyard where he was to drop off Lauren Bessette on the way to Hyannis Port for the wedding, which has now been postponed indefinitely.
The six-seater plane, equipped with a 300-horsepower engine, took off from a New Jersey airport at sunset in hot, hazy skies that reduced visibility to about six to eight kilometers (three to five miles), according to other pilots who flew at the time.
Investigators predicted that the process of recovering and analyzing the wreckage would be lengthy.
Pulling debris out of the water could take as long as two weeks, National Transportation Safety Board officials said, while a final report on the crash could take as long as six months to prepare.
The death of Kennedy, the editor of the political magazine George who was once described by People magazine as "the sexiest man alive," sent shockwaves across the world, bringing journalists from Japan and Europe to the Kennedy compound.