Monday, July 16, 2007

July 16, 1999:

John F. Kennedy Jr. Dies

John F. Kennedy Jr. had a few distinctions as a presidential child. He was the first and so far the only child ever born to a president-elect, coming as he did after his father's election but before his inauguration. When his father became president, he and his sister were the first small children to live in the White House since the second Cleveland administration (which included "Baby Ruth" Cleveland, born 1891, and her sisters).

His father famously died at a relatively young 46. JFK Jr. died even younger, at 38. Eric Nolte, a pilot, wrote the following about the death of the son of the 35th President of the United States in a private airplane crash eight years ago:

"In the last few minutes before Kennedy’s little single-engine airplane went into the heavy seas off Martha’s Vineyard, its radar track showed all the evidence of a mind wobbling in the tortured confusion called vertigo. This confusion steered Kennedy down a horrifying spiral to his death on that hot and hazy night in July.

"The kind of bafflement and panic that killed Kennedy arises in a mind as it struggles with the contradictory signals of its inner ear and its rational faculty. The inner ear evolved over millennia to measure one’s movement in relation to the fixed sensation of gravity. Gravity always acts as a vector pointing straight down to the center of the Earth. The inner ear is equipped with tubes of liquid that shift in response to any movement while the mind compares these signals against this fixed sensation of gravity. This balancing apparatus signals the pilot’s mind and says, 'You are strapped into a seat that is now as level as if you were sitting squarely at your kitchen table.'

"By contrast, at the same moment he was feeling perfectly right-side-up, the aircraft instruments, when correctly interpreted, conveyed the message, 'Your wings are tilted steeply to the right of level, the nose of this airplane is pointing way down, and your airspeed is already howling past the red line.'

"The airplane’s flight path creates forces that befuddle one’s awareness of Earth’s gravity. To judge by the sensations in the seat of your pants, you literally can’t tell up from down, left from right. You are as helpless to move out of the airplane’s acceleration field as you would be if you were pinned to the side of a spinning circus centrifuge when the floor drops away.

"And here is the crux of the matter: the pilot’s emotions drowned out the flight instruments’ story about banking and diving at high speed, and screamed out, 'No way! It can’t be! I’m actually flying straight and level! I know it! I feel it’s true!' "

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