Personal and Professional Stress

Stress related to Kennedy’s professional and personal life may have played a role in the disaster. The financial decline of his magazine George was well known, and was no doubt preying on his mind. Also rumored were his marriage difficulties with Carolyn. There is always a possibility that this combination of stress factors made it harder for Kennedy to concentrate solely on his flying.

Physical Discomfort

Kennedy was probably suffering some mild physical discomfort on this flight, too. He had broken his ankle, and the cast had just been removed a couple of days earlier. The press emphasized this factor a lot, but Kennedy’s foot probably didn’t play a direct role in the crash—he would hardly have been using the rudder at all when the accident occurred. But it’s worth mentioning that physical discomfort, whether from illness or injury, can be a powerful distraction during a flight.

Personal and Professional Stress

On Course

Kenned/s accident occurred in the cruise segment of the flight, statistically the safest flight seg­ment of all. Most accidents— more than half—occur during descent and landing. A third of them occur during takeoff and climb. Cruise accidents account for only about 10 percent or so of all accidents.

Route

Had Kennedy made a different choice of routes, the accident might never have happened.

There are two primary routes from northern New Jersey to Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod—the familiar Long Island route that includes a lengthy overwater leg, and a second route that hugs the southern coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Without adding any significant flight time (though it would perhaps have required a bit of additional planning time), Kennedy could have flown a brightly lit route over suburban Westchester County and into Connecticut. There, guided by the lights of Bridgeport, New London, and finally Newport, Rhode Island, which would have been more visible through the haze, he could have made a much shorter over-water hop to Martha’s Vineyard. The short hop from there to Hyannisport would also have been relatively well-lit.

However, Kennedy seems to have succumbed to one of the most pernicious influences on decision making: opting for the familiar over the unknown, regardless of other factors. He chose the familiar route he had flown before, despite the fact that weather conditions for that route were not the same he had flown in before.

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