SANDWICH TOWNSHIP, Mass. — The bodies of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law were finally found and brought to shore Wednesday, ending a massive five-day search that employed airplanes, ships and submarines and utilized radar, sonar and global positioning satellites.
The bodies--which were found amid the twisted wreckage of the plane's fuselage, 116 feet below the surface off Martha's Vineyard--were taken to a medical examiner's office for autopsies.
"I think we were able to bring closure to two families," said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard Larrabee. "The bodies are being readied for return to the families."
Navy divers brought the bodies to the surface at 4:30 p.m. EDT. The divers then began the effort to retrieve the main fuselage of Kennedy's Piper Saratoga, which was severely damaged but intact.
Meanwhile, a spokesman announced that a memorial Mass for Kennedy and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, will be held Friday in the Roman Catholic church where his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, worshiped. President and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend the service at St. Thomas More Church on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
The 11 a.m. service for Kennedy and his wife "will be closed to the public and the press; it is for friends and family only," family spokesman Will Keyser said.
The families were trying to resolve differences about burial plans, a source said. A senior administration official said that Kennedy would be buried at sea as early as today but that plans for his wife and sister-in-law were uncertain. A Navy ship was positioned for the sea burial, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Wednesday night.
An invitation-only memorial service for Kennedy's sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, will be held Saturday evening at an Episcopal church in Greenwich, Conn. The ceremony also will include remembrances of Kennedy and his wife, but is meant especially for Bessette.
"I think people have tended to forget that she is a person in her own right," said Mary Marks, parish secretary.
New York's Irish community planned a public memorial service tonight at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Lower Manhattan.
"It is intended to supplement whatever service the family will arrange and perhaps accommodate mourners who might not otherwise have an opportunity to pay their respects," said Brian O'Dwyer, head of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.
Plane's Fuselage Is Identified
Shortly before midnight Tuesday, an unmanned miniature submarine equipped with a television camera identified the plane's fuselage, according to a statement issued by Larrabee and James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. About noon Wednesday, Navy divers located the bodies.
An hour later, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his sons, Edward J. Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), as well as his nephews Max and Douglas, were taken by helicopter to a Navy ship near the wreckage site so they could be briefed on the recovery operation, federal officials said. The Kennedys were aboard a Coast Guard cutter as the three bodies were transported to Woods Hole, a port on the Massachusetts coast.
The plane was found on the bottom of the sea, about 7 1/2 miles west of Gay Head, the westernmost point of Martha's Vineyard. Radar enabled search crews to fix the plane's "splash-down point," sonar identified the fuselage and satellites guided Navy ships to the location.
A large section of the fuselage, including the instrument panel, was recovered. That and other portions of the plane that are recovered will be transported to a hangar at Otis Air Force Base here to be analyzed, Hall said. The NTSB also will continue to review radar data, study maintenance records and conduct more interviews to try to determine the cause of the accident. A full report will be issued in six to nine months, Hall said.
Aviation experts who have studied radar data believe that Kennedy suddenly lost altitude in an apparent "graveyard spiral," an indication that pilot error was the most likely cause of the crash.
While the recovery operation continued, nearby residents expressed great sadness when the bodies were recovered.
"I had this little glimmer of hope that he might be alive," said Miriam Dempsey, a waitress at the Keltic Kitchen in West Yarmouth. "I thought there was a chance. Now it's over."
Clinton Defends Massive Federal Effort
At a Wednesday news conference, President Clinton defended his decision to employ extensive federal resources in the search.
"It was the right thing to do," Clinton said, for several reasons--including "the role of the Kennedy family in our national life and because of the enormous losses they have sustained in our lifetimes."
At Clinton's news conference, he spoke fondly about his friendship with Kennedy, whom he first met when Kennedy was a young law clerk at a Los Angeles law firm.