Harwich Resident Remembers Helping Search for JFK Jr. 20 Years Later

John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy leave a party October 10, 1996 in New York . (AP Photo/Douglas Healey)

HYANNIS – Today is the 20th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

Kennedy was traveling to attend the wedding of his cousin Rory Kennedy in Hyannis Port, but his plane was reported missing when it failed to arrive on schedule at Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Harbormasters spent five days looking for the remnants of the plane and to recover their remains.

Harwich resident Mike Sekerak was on the Coast Guard Auxiliary team that helped search for Kennedy.

He was part of the ground crew that looked for any part of the wreckage and personal belongings that may have washed ashore.

“I’m of the generation where I remember the Kennedys and I remember seeing him grow up, so it was quite meaningful to be out there to try to help,” said Sekerak.

As a pilot, Sekerak also flew the exact same kind of airplane that Kennedy had, a Piper Saratoga.

“I had some familiarity with the characteristics of the aircraft and what could happen,” said Sekerak.

On July 21, 1999, the bodies of Kennedy, his wife and his sister-in-law Lauren were recovered from the ocean floor by Navy divers 120 feet below the surface of the ocean and 7.5 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard.

Sekerak recalls how he felt when he heard the news that they made the recovery.

“It was just sadness,” said Sekerak. “He seemed like such a nice fellow, and it’s sad to see that tragedy following that family. It’s just another thing they didn’t need.”

Relatives brought Kennedy’s cremated remains on board the USS Briscoe on July 22nd and they were scattered off the coast of the Vineyard.

Looking back on the days he spent helping look for the wreckage and remains, Sekerak said he’ll never forget it.

“It’s one of the memorable things that you have in your lifetime and one of the things that you can tell younger members of your family, your grandsons about,” said Sekerak.

About Justin Saunders

Justin Saunders has nearly 10 years of experience in radio, television, online and newspaper journalism across the US and Canada. Justin joined the CapeCod.com NewsCenter in May 2014 and continues to help provide coverage of the Cape and Islands.

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