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A look back at JFK Jr.’s life and death on the 20th anniversary of his plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard

John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, in New York on March 4, 1997. Mike Segar/REUTERS

The world was shocked and devastated after the Kennedy family was beset by yet another tragedy on Friday, July 16, 1999: A single-engine plane flown by John F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the former president, had gone missing in the waters west of Martha’s Vineyard.

Kennedy, along with his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her older sister, Lauren Bessette, all died in the crash. Kennedy and his wife had planned to drop off Lauren on Martha’s Vineyard before the married couple were to attend the wedding of his cousin, Rory Kennedy — the youngest child of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy — in Hyannis Port.


The plane made a rapid descent at 9:38 p.m. Friday, about an hour into the flight and about 17 miles from Martha’s Vineyard airport, according to Globe reports following the crash.

The days that followed featured a frantic search of the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, funeral services at sea and in New York, and makeshift memorials popping up in Boston and New York City, where John Jr. and Carolyn lived.

After a five-day search, the bodies of the three victims were recovered from 116 feet of water, still strapped in their seats.

On the 20th anniversary of the crash, here’s a look back at the storied life of John F. Kennedy Jr., whose life was cut short when he was only 38.

John F. Kennedy Jr. on Nov. 16, 1961, nine days before his first birthday.AP
John F. Kennedy Jr. received an early introduction to boats at the hands of his father, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, at Bailey's Beach in Newport, R.I., on Sept. 14, 1963. AP/COURTESY JFK LIBRARY via AP
The Kennedys with the family dogs at their Hyannis Port, Mass., home, on Aug. 14, 1963. Cecil Stoughton/White House/AP/via AP
President Kennedy with his son, John Jr., on Oct. 10, 1963.REUTERS
John F. Kennedy Jr. has been a fixture on the American landscape from that sad November day in 1963 when, only 3, he bravely saluted his father’s funeral procession.AP
John Jr. and his sister, Caroline, chatted at the dedication of the JFK School of Government at Harvard University on Oct. 21, 1978. The Boston Globe
John F. Kennedy Jr. with his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, outside St. Stephens Chapel at Brown University in Providence, R.I., June 6, 1983, after he received his Bachelor of Arts degree. Paul R. Benoit/AP/Associated Press
Caroline, John Jr., and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on May 25, 1989.John Blanding/Globe Staff
John F. Kennedy Jr. left his office after telling his boss at the New York County District Attorney's office that he failed his New York State bar examination for a second time on May 1, 1990. Paul Adao/New York Post/AP/NEW YORK P0ST via AP
Although John Jr. allegedly tried to stay out of the public eye, he became a familiar sight to New Yorkers, who knew his passion for running in Central Park and roller-blading on Manhattan streets. Pictured: John Jr. in Central Park in 1994. REX/Shutterstock/Shutterstock
Few events broke the hearts of single women more than JFK Jr.’s relationship with Carolyn Bessette, a publicist for Calvin Klein and a graduate of Boston University. Pictured: The couple at the Municipal Art Society of New York Benefit on Feb. 28, 1996. Richard Corkery/New York Daily News/AP/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS via AP
The marriage of John, 35, and Carolyn, 29, was carried out in secrecy on a secluded Georgia island, away from the media. The pair were married Saturday, Sept. 21, 1996 on Cumberland Island. The couple reportedly had been dating for more than two years.Denis Reggie/AP/KENNEDY FAMILY via AP
The site of the pair’s wedding reception was at the exclusive Greyfield Inn. The wedding party rented the entire 13-room inn for the gala, buying out anyone with prior reservations.AP/Associated Press
John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, outside their New York apartment in October 1996. The pair honeymooned in Turkey.John Naso/New York Daily News
The pair at the 80th birthday party for JFK in Dorchester on May 29, 1997. Carolyn Bessette was notoriously press-shy, rarely speaking with reporters. Even the details of how she and John Jr. first met are unclear: One tale says they met while jogging in Central Park; another says they were introduced when he was shopping for suits at Calvin Klein’s, where she worked as a publicist.The Boston Globe
John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette in their Tribeca neighborhood in New York in October 1997. After graduating from BU, Bessette landed a job at a Calvin Klein store in Boston, reportedly hired by a boss who spotted her walking down the street. When she actually met Klein, the fashion designer was so impressed that she was transferred to the New York headquarters.Lawrence LeVine/AP/Associated Press
The pair walked to the Bracciano Cathedral in Italy to attend the wedding of CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour and US State Department spokesman James Rubin on Aug. 8, 1998.The New York Times/ANSA-FILES
John F. Kennedy Jr. sat in a plane cockpit with his wife, Carolyn, in 1998. There were reports Carolyn was unhappy about her husband’s taste for flying — stories Kennedy dismissed. “Carolyn was the first person to fly with me after I got my solo license,’’ he said in an interview two weeks before the crash.REX/Shutterstock/Shutterstock
An October 1998 copy photo taken at Caldwell Airport shows John F. Kennedy Jr.'s 1995 Piper Saratoga. Although Kennedy’s trip to Massachusetts was routine, the series of decisions he made that night - flying a complex aircraft without a flight plan, choosing not to have his flight instructor accompany him in marginal weather conditions, and piloting an airplane with a foot injury - have grown in significance against the backdrop of what became a search and recovery operation off Aquinnah, Mass. Photo Courtesy of Munir Hussain
The Piper Saratoga vanished from radar screens after a rapid descent at 9:38 p.m. Friday, about an hour into the flight and about 17 miles from Martha’s Vineyard airport. Pictured: A beachgoer watched as a US Coast Guard rescue helicopter searched for the missing plane flown by John F. Kennedy Jr. on Saturday, July 17, 1999 near Philbin Beach on Martha's Vineyard.Evan Richman/Globe Staff
Beachgoers watched as a Coast Guard rescue helicopter searched along Philbin Beach on July 17, 1999.Evan Richman/Globe Staff
A Coast Guard boat looked for debris from the missing plane off the southwestern coast of Martha's Vineyard on July 17, 1999.Andrea Mohin/New York Times/AP/NEW YORK TIMES via AP
A State Police trooper recovered a section of aircraft landing gear believed to be from the plane.Evan Richman/Globe Staff
A Massachusetts State Police trooper recovered luggage believed to be from the missing plane on Saturday, July 17, 1999 at Philbin Beach.Evan Richman/Globe Staff
A business card belonging to Lauren Bessette, sister-in-law of John F. Kennedy Jr., was used as a luggage tag on a travel bag recovered Saturday, July 17, 1999, at Philbin Beach.Evan Richman/Globe Staff
An unmarked police car sat outside a hanger at the Caldwell Wright Airport in Fairfield, N.J., on July 17, where John F. Kennedy Jr., took off late July 16 to fly to Martha's Vineyard. Ray Stubblebine/REUTERS
Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in her 1983 senior high school yearbook photo. Even in high school, she made a big impression; her classmates at St. Mary’s High School in Greenwich voted her “The Ultimate Beautiful Person.’’AP
Lauren Bessette in a photo from her Greenwich High School 1981 year book. Bessette and her twin sister, Lisa Ann, were the first children born to Ann and William Bessette, an architectural engineer. Carolyn was 14 months younger than the twins. Lauren was 34 when Kennedy’s plane crashed.AP/Associated Press
Lauren Bessette in a 1982 Greenwich High School yearbook photo. Bressette was a financial executive at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter with a passion for Asia. ‘’She’s a wonderful person. She was very dedicated and professional,’’ a former co-worker said.AP/Associated Press
Lauren Bessette graduated from Hobart and William Smith College in upstate New York in 1986. Her college faculty adviser described her as ‘’a very bright, articulate, and very confident young woman.’’ She later earned her master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Hobart and William Smith Colleges via AP
Lauren Gail Bessette in an undated family photo. Kennedy planned to stop first on the island of Martha’s Vineyard to drop off Bessette before attending a family wedding in Hyannis Port.Bessette Family via AP
Courtney Kennedy Hill and her husband, Paul Hill, walked along the beach on July 17, 1999, in front of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Post with their daughter after hearing news of John Jr.'s plane disappearance. Stephen Rose/Globe Staff
Joe Kennedy and his wife Beth talked to Andrew Cuomo and his wife, Kerrie Kennedy Cuomo, as dusk approached over the compound on July 17, 1999.The Boston Globe
The front page of The Boston Globe on July 18, 1999.The Boston Globe
A State Police underwater recovery unit arrived off of the ferry in Vineyard Havem to assist in the search for JFK Jr.'s missing airplane on Sunday, July 18, 1999. Adrienne Giovino/Globe Staff
Rory Kennedy, whose wedding John Jr. was flying to attend, walked with her fiance, Mark Bailey, on July 18, 1999. The wedding was called off after her cousin’s plane went missing. The wedding, which had been scheduled at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., on July 17, was canceled. The pair instead married in Greece weeks later.The Boston Globe
Rory Kennedy (left, wearing jeans) was embraced by an unidentified woman.The Boston Globe
Ethel Kennedy spoke to two guests at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port on July 17, 1999, as they awaited word on the fate of John Jr.The Boston Globe
The front pages of Britain's national newspapers were dominated by the disappearance of John F. Kennedy Jr. on Sunday, July 18, 1999.Richard Cackett/AP/Associated Press
Kennedy family members and guests gathered for a morning prayer service under a tent at Ethel’s home in Hyannis Port on July 18, 1999.The Boston Globe
Joe Kennedy walked along the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port on July 18, 1999, as the vigil continued about Joe Jr.’s fate.The Boston Globe
The front page of The Boston Globe on July 19, 1999.The Boston Globe
State Police divers headed into the water two miles southwest off Martha’s Vineyard to search for the plane on July 19, 1999.The Boston Globe
Mass. State Police trooper Richard White was hosed off at the Menemsha Coast Guard station after returning from the dive.The Boston Globe
Ethel Kennedy walked along the dock of a yacht club in Hyannis Port on July 19 after sailing with two of her sons and their wives as she proceeded back to the Kennedy compound. At left, Douglas Kennedy and his wife; center, Ethel Kennedy; right, Maxwell Kennedy and wife Vicky. The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan
A memorial for John F. Kennedy Jr. was placed Monday, July 19, 1999 at the JFK Museum in Hyannis.Stephen Rose/Globe Staff/Globe Photo
A flag flew at half staff in honor of the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, July 19, 1999. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
The front page of The Boston Globe on July 20, 1999.The Boston Globe
US Navy divers descended from the USS Grasp into the water seven miles off the southwest tip of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., on Tuesday, July 20, 1999. The divers, searching for the downed airplane of John F. Kennedy Jr., were targeting what the Navy described as their most accurate projection of the wreckage location to date. US Navy via CBS News/AP
Massachusetts State Police divers transferred to another boat just west of Martha's Vineyard on July 20 after their first recovery dive of the day. Mike Segar/REUTERS
From a cliff-top outlook at Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard on July 20, 1999, people spent time using binoculars and taking photos as searchers several miles out in the ocean continued to look for the downed plane.The Boston Globe
Hyannis Port, July 21, 1999: A Coast Guard helicopter landed to pick up Senator Ted Kennedy (pictured, escorted by officials) and his two sons, Ted Jr. (blue shirt) and Patrick (white shirt) to take them to Martha's Vineyard.Tom Landers/Globe Staff/Tom Landers
A photograph of John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, sat among flowers and other items at a makeshift shrine outside the couple's apartment building in New York on July 21, 1999.REUTERS
As word of the finding of John Jr.'s body spread on July 21, 1999, flowers, photographs, and letters came flooding in to the JFK Library.
The front page of The Boston Globe on July 22, 1999.The Boston Globe
Flowers hung on a wooden gate near the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port on July 22, 1999. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L. Ryan
The memorial mass for John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and Lauren Gail Bessette at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on Thursday, July 22, 1999. A crowd of about 800 gathered at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the city’s Little Italy section; about 1,500 more people stood behind police barricades outside. The public memorial service, organized by members of the city’s Irish community, gave admirers a chance to say goodbye to a man whose relaxed grace captivated the city. AP/POOL AP via AP
On July 22, sightseers watched as the USS Briscoe prepared to head for Gay Head for the funeral at sea. Shortly after the trio’s bodies were found a few miles off the coast of Gay Head, they were all buried at sea. A private service was held on the USS Briscoe for the Kennedys and Bessettes. The Boston Globe
Woods Hole, July 22: The Kennedy family entourage waited in the back of a Coast Guard cutter as it transferred them from the USS Briscoe in Woods Hole to the dock. Pictured: Michael Kennedy Smith (far left), Senator Ted Kennedy (middle). and Caroline and her husband (far right). The Boston Globe
The Kennedy family aboard a Coast Guard cutter in the morning after boarding from Woods Hole Coast Guard station for transport to the USS Briscoe for the funeral at sea off Martha's Vineyard. Identifiable are, from left: Maria Shriver, Edwin Schlossberg, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Victoria Kennedy, and Senator Edward Kennedy.Bill Greene/Globe Staff
The memorial at John Jr. and Carolyn’s home in New York City on July 23, 1999. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L. Ryan
Members of the media on the corner of 89th and Park Avenue in New York to capture images of mourners arriving at the memorial service for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on Friday, July 23, 1999. Kennedy’s family scattered his ashes and those of his wife and sister-in-law into the sea off Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday, and planned a private memorial Friday at the Church of St. Thomas More on the Upper East Side.Roberto Borea/AP/Associated Press
Then-President Clinton and his family attended the memorial service in New York on July 23, 1999. The Clintons brought to New York a collection of photos of John Jr. and his wife Carolyn to present to their families at the service. Clinton gave a photo album each to Kennedy’s uncle, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, his sister, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and to the family of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, the White House said.The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan
Bobby Kennedy wand his wife arrived at the memorial on July 23, 1999.The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan
Caroline, John Jr.'s sister, arrived at a rear entrance to church. The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan
Edward Kennedy Jr. left the church with his wife. The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan
Senator John Kerry was seen outside the church after the memorial.The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan
Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicky, left the church after the memorial service for JFK Jr. Delivering the eulogy for JFK Jr., as he had for his brother Bobby and his mother Rose, Ted fondly recalled the time when John was asked what he would do if he were elected president. John replied with a grin, "I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat." Said Ted: "I loved that. It was so like his father." David L. Ryan/Globe Staf/David L. Ryan
Ann Freeman, right, mother of Lauren Bessette and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, arrived at Christ Church in Greenwich, Conn., for a private memorial service honoring Lauren Bessette on Saturday, July 24, 1999. Mark Lennihan/AP/Associated Press

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Previous Globe coverage was used in this report.