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Accident Reconstruction a Painstaking Process

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RALEIGH — The search continues for wreckage and bodies off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. There is no hope remaining that John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law survived the weekend plane crash.

One of the biggest challenges facing investigators, if in fact they find the Kennedy plane, is to figure out exactly what went wrong. The process of bringing up debris from the ocean floor and piecing the plane back together is no easy task.

Accident reconstruction is a painstaking process. The plane must first be found. It has to be recovered and restored. Each and every part must be thoroughly examined.

A Triangle company has a national reputation for making the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Charles Manning's scrapbooks feature downed planes instead of family photos. He has been investigating crashes for 50 years.

Manning owns an accident reconstruction company in Raleigh.

"We put the planes back together, and when you put it back together, you can see what happened," he says.

Scientists examine the pieces under a microscope which can magnify objects 100,000 times. Manning says finding debris is a sure sign of a hard impact.

"This all kind of tells you that the airplane may have been torn apart from some kind of an impact," he says.

Manning says the ocean complicates things because tides carry wreckage away from the crash site and can also damage evidence.

Manning, who is a pilot himself, has his own theory about what happened to the Kennedy plane.

"Without a mayday call, anything like that, it would indicate to us that the plane went down quite rapidly, which would indicate that they may have gotten disoriented. That's about all you can really say," he says.

Manning says that the fact that Kennedy did not call for help on the radio is a good sign that the plane was descending rapidly -- possibly going straight down, or even turned completely upside down.

He believes that both flying at night under hazy conditions and Kennedy's relative inexperience as a pilot may have contributed to the crash.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Terry Cantrell, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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