Was JFK Jr. drunk during plane crash, & did he nearly collide w/ commercial flight?

Articles in this week’s Star Magazine and the National Enquirer say a new book about JFK’s children, American Legacy: The Story of John & Caroline Kennedy by C. David Heymann claims that JFK Jr. was taking narcotics for an ankle injury, and that those drugs coupled with the fact that he was drinking on the night he crashed his plane would have impaired his ability to fly.

It also contains the bombshell that Kennedy flew into the path of an American Airlines flight before his plane crashed:

The book – which relies on eyewitness accounts and never-before released government documents – reveals that Kennedy strayed into the flight path of American Airlines Flight 1484, carrying 128 passengers and six crew members, shortly before his fatal crash.

Control tower personnel could not contact Kennedy by radio, because he was not responding. At the last minute, the American flight swerved to avert a mid-air collision.

Heymann writes that Kennedy was taking Vicodin, a narcotic he had been prescribed for pain from surgery on an ankle he broke while para-gliding on June 1, a month and a half before his fatal accident.

At a service station near the airport before his flight, Kennedy was spotted by executive and pilot Roy Stoppard who noticed Kennedy was carrying an opened bottle of white wine.

[From The National Enquirer print edition, July 9th, 2007]

The NTSB report concluded that Kennedy’s crash was the result of pilot error. Kennedy was said to have misjudged the altitude as there were hazy conditions with no visual reference, overcorrected and sent his high-performance plane into a spin which probably knocked him unconscious.

Back when JFK Jr. crashed his plane I was dating a guy who was taking private pilot lessons at Caldwell airport in NJ where JFK Jr., his wife Caroline Bessette, and her sister Lauren set off on that fateful night.

Anyway I e-mailed him for his take on this story, as I know he followed it closely at the time and since he’s a pilot he has more insight into it than I do.

Here’s how he explains the NTSB report:

When you fly in blackout conditions (dark night, no moon, fog), you have absolutely no reference to the horizon except for your HSI (horizontal situation indicator). Your inner ear measures acceleration, so if you, say, turn around to talk to your sister-in-law and then turn back front, you could feel like the plane has changed attitude even when it hasn’t.

Something like that probably happened with JFK. He felt the plane was in an ascending turn or flying level when really he had put it into a descending turn. At some point he saw the HSI and altimeter and, not realizing his descending turn had already gotten the plane close to its never-exceed speed (VNE), he overcorrected and “hammerheaded,” which probably knocked him unconscious. At this point the plane stalled, rolled on its back, and headed straight into the Atlantic.

[E-mailed from my friend DB]

In the Star Magazine article about the upcoming book, it is said that author Heymann claims that he had a secret autopsy performed on Kennedy’s remains and that they showed he had three times the legal limit of booze in his system. “His tissue and lungs had a very high level of alcohol. I sent the report to toxicologists, who say he had three times the legal limit in his system!”

My friend DB points out that more experienced pilots than JFK Jr. decided not to fly that night due to low visibility. He may have been drunk, but there are many other factors that could explain his tragic plane crash.

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