Published January 13, 2015
Almost eight years after John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, federal officials released a brief audio clip Tuesday of a conversation between a concerned airport intern and a Federal Aviation Administration dispatcher related to the fatal flight.
A transcript of the conversation between Adam Budd, a 21-year-old college student employed at the Martha's Vineyard Airport, and the call center at the FAA's Automated Flight Service Station in Bridgeport, Conn., already was made public and widely reported four days after the July 16, 1999, crash.
The audio released on Tuesday by the Department of Transportation in Washington was the result of a federal Freedom of Information Act request filed by broadcasters after the crash. A portion of it was aired on Boston's WFXT-TV.
Budd, who generally performed clerical tasks, is recorded in a hushed tone, his voice slightly quaking as he asks if the FAA can track Kennedy's plane.
"Well, who are you?" an unidentified FAA dispatcher asked.
"I'm with airport operations," Budd said, failing to identify which airport until asked by the dispatcher.
He then said: "Actually, Kennedy Jr.'s on board. He's uh, they want to know, uh, where he is."
When the operator told him he wouldn't give the information over the phone, Budd backed off.
"OK, well, if it's too much trouble, it's ... I'll just have 'em wait. ... It's not a big deal," he said, according to the 1999 transcript.
Budd's call came in at 10:05 p.m., four hours before a search and rescue mission was scrambled after a family friend made a more forceful call to the Coast Guard.
Kennedy, the 38-year-old son and namesake of America's 35th president, was flying with his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, 34, when his six-seat, single-engine Piper Saratoga crashed seven miles south of his Martha's Vineyard home. All three were killed.
A report of the National Transportation Safety Board blamed pilot error for the crash, saying Kennedy, who had been flying for 15 months, was not skilled enough for low-visibility nighttime flying and became disoriented in the hazy sky.