John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Final Flight
In This Chapter
► A chain of decision* that led to disaster
>■ The radar records of Kennedy’s last minutes
► The "graveyard spiral"—one of flying’s most violent killers
► Night flight and the body’s sense of balance
Flying is first and foremost a matter of managing risk. Beyond all the skills that must be mastered and the academic knowledge that must be learned, the practice of safe flying is an unending determination to discover hidden risk and prevent it from becoming a danger.
It happens all the time—a pilot has to balance the pressure he feels to make a certain flight against the risk factors the flight might have. Perhaps a pilot has to weigh the benefit of flying a particular route against hazardous weather conditions or the scarcity of emergency landing fields. And sometimes he has to assess his own skill level against the demands of a flight—the most difficult risk factor to judge objectively.
It was this sort of a balancing of risks that John F. Kennedy Jr. was faced with in the hours that led to a flight from New Jersey to Cape Cod in July 1999. He balanced the hazards of hazy weather and poor visibility against his skills as an eyeball-only pilot—a pilot who needed to be able to see the ground in order to fly safely.
As history shows, Kennedy made a deadly mistake in assessing the risks of that flight. He wasn’t the first pilot to underestimate the power of the elements or to overestimate the skills he brought to the cockpit. Thousands of pilots have made similarly poor decisions. Although for most of these flyers, fate was usually more forgiving, the tragedy of JFK Jr. is an example ofjust how serious the consequences of a bad flying decision can be.